15 December 2019
Living with other Faiths
“The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled neither let them be afraid..” John 14: 25 - 27
It was light years away from the world of Danish cartoons and South Park last week when the Middlemore Spiritual Centre was dedicated. It is a place within the hospital, which provides for anyone, staff, visitors, patients to be able to have a place to go and meditate, think, pray, or just be. It provides a dedicated place for a worship service which makes a huge difference from the small multi-use room that passed for a chapel before. We at St Johns contributed to this project along with many other Christian churches and other faiths in South Auckland.and the South Auckland Health Board funded the actual room.
At the opening, as the representatives of the different faiths came forward with their symbols, there was a respect for each other’s beliefs. Not from positions of each watering down their own beliefs, or a “cultural cringe” but from the strengths of knowing where each stood. On this day there was a common purpose in asking for compassion for the sick and praying for those who were healing them. It showed that much is possible that the world counts as impossible, as Muslim, Christian and Jew stood side by side, [do not give up praying for peace in the middle East]. Hindu and Moslem stood together, maybe a sign that India and Pakistan have hope of peace..
It was fascinating to hear how many of the world’s faiths had sprung from the areas of Persia as each claimed its origins.and Baha’i and Buddhist, Sikh and Ratana added their symbols to the rest in the centre
We have an amazing opportunity to build relationships in our wonderfully diverse community when we share a centre like this. The Christian chaplains at the hospital, Presbyterian, Catholic, Anglican and Methodist are a witness to God’s love in action and made space for others. Somehow God is at work in our place as we face the challenge of how to live as followers of Jesus in a pluralist society.
It must puzzle other faiths as to why Christians, who are told they will be known by how “they love one another” have so many different churches in our area.
The prayers which each group prayed were where the differing world views of each faith came through. I reflected that one could see why the modern hospital and Western medical system had come out of the Christian faith. God was seen as the active giver of sickness and suffering by a number of the religions and the prayers were for the mercy and compassion of God. The Christian prayer was different [and shorter] implying that God wanted us to be whole, and we prayed for God’s will for that wholeness to be done in the hospital and for healing of the sick.
The Christian faith is impacting on the other faiths, there are subtle changes in how the religions are presented and as we talk to one another it becomes harder for each to see those of other faiths as enemies. Some Christians have rejected the idea as they are afraid that this sort of shared centre leads to a syncretism, [a mixing of other beliefs into the Christian faith].and they try to keep apart, separate, like the Pharisees of old, so they are not “contaminated” It’s a pity they were not at the opening - they need to have faith and remember that the Christian church was formed in a pluralist society, there have been centuries of many cultures being challenged by Christ’s call and hope. Our faith is robust enough for us to be free to relate to others in respect and peace because all humans are made in the image of the one God, who is revealed to us in Jesus.
So how do we live in this society in Manukau City today?
We have all been called, young and old, to live alongside those who are different in faith. This is a time for us to renew our faith and to be able to give reason as to why we are Christians, or why we follow the way of Jesus. You would be surprised at how many new immigrants observe their neighbours going to church on Sunday morning.
Many of us may have been brought up in an age when ones faith was a private matter, people assumed that others were Christian but you didn’t have to talk about it, just do. Now you are likely to be asked about your faith by your neighbour, who could be any of a number of religions or none and who really wants to know what Christians think or do.... Do not stay silent, tell if you are invited to do so, in your own language and your own way and also listen to their stories about their faith and hopes and dreams
Your story may be what they need to hear, or your listening ear may be the loving they need. Then let the Spirit of God work among us, with that miracle of opening human hearts and lives to the amazing love and new life which Christ has given to the world.
Many years ago missionaries were sent to find people to tell about Christ in far off lands, now we are in a place to which we are “sent” and all we have to do is to be faithful and love our neighbour as one who is loved by God. Then the kingdom of heaven comes very close and who knows what God is already doing in our neighbourhood.
May God give you love and hope.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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