A young Muslim lady, a social inclusivity campaigner, spoke from the pulpit a while ago at an act of worship in one of the great churches of the United Kingdom. At the service, during the prayers, prayer was offered by a Buddhist, a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian.
This was The Commonwealth Service, of 2016. The service is held at Westminster Abbey each year in the presence of the Queen, members of the Royal Family and many dignitaries from around the world. It is an inspiring example of people of different faiths being welcomed in a Christian place of worship for a service together. Appropriately the theme of the 2016 serice was An Inclusive Commonwealth.
At our local level over the years we have welcomed Muslim people and people of other world faiths to St Chrysostom’s. Our indigenous plants’ garden at the side of church was prayed over, when we first planted it, by an Anglican Bishop, a Muslim Imam and a Jewish woman. We have had Hindu and Muslim people come and ask to pray in Church, especially at difficult times in their lives. We’ve held discussion groups about Christianity and Islam, several with young adult Christians and Muslims.
We’ve had gatherings where we have celebrated the high role of Mary in Islam and Christianity, and at which we’ve had readings from Christian and Muslim holy books.
Schools gatherings in church have honoured the differing faiths represented among children and staff. Church staff have been invited to significant muslim events in the local community.
All these things have been appropriate in our diverse community, where we seek to work together for the common good, and where we seek to build up friendships, foster mutual understanding and respect. We also seek to find out more about our faiths – their differences and their similarities. We have been enriched by such gatherings and we have never received any complaint about this. On the contrary we have been praised for our welcome, hospitality and willingness to engage.
This year a Muslim local councillor read from the Hebrew Scriptures at our Carol Service. Afterwards he remarked: “Thanks to the Parish Priest, Canon Ian Gomersall, for allowing me the honour to do a reading at the Victoria Park Carol Service.
The Carol Service unites the local community as children, young people and adults from different sections of our diverse community together reflect upon the message of Christmas.”
On our local level people of different faiths coming together in this way seek to offer our community a sign that we value one another and can celebrate difference and learn from one another. It is our hope that this offers a different message to that found in some other places of our world.
In her Commonwealth Day message last year the Queen said:
Being inclusive and accepting diversity goes far deeper than accepting differences at face value and being tolerant. True celebration of the dignity of each person, and the value of their uniqueness and contribution, involves reaching out, recognising and embracing their individual identity.
At St Chrysostom’s Church we pray that we may have the courage to reach out in welcome, embrace diference, and join together in service with peoples of differing faiths and all people of good will.