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Friday, February 20, 2009

Speech by Ms. Wendie Wilkie, Associate General Secretary, Uniting Church in Australia

Speech to Islamic Christian meeting

It is my great pleasure to be here tonight. That we can meet like this I as members of two different faiths is a reminder that living together in harmony and mutual respect is possible.

Our two faiths traditions have within them many exhortations to live with one another in peace. Both of our traditions acknowledge God as the creator of this world and our creator. Our common humanity puts us together on this small blue planet, we cannot pretend any longer - if we ever could, that we can live as though the other did not exist or that only one group has rights and needs. It is more than tolerance that will bring true peace and harmony between us. It will take leadership, it needs intentional and ongoing meetings between us to build relationships at all levels, it needs us to learn about each other’s faith to some extent so we can understand and appreciate one another better, to support one another in the celebration and patterns of our faith. It need us to respect each other as people of faith - we have that in common that we are people of faith. It will require us to take risks for the sake of those relationships, to stoep outised our comfort zone and to perhaps challenge our own communities at times for the sake of those relatiomships in order to build peace. It will require openness and empathy for one another..

Let me tell you some modern stories to illustrate what I think is required.

Within a few days of the twin towers being shattered in USA on September 11, a large group of Christians and Muslims met for dinner here in Sydney. It had been planned many months earlier but the irony of its timing did not escape the 80 people who gathered. Affirmations of the commitment to build the yet young and fragile relationship were made and a common statement condemning the horror bombing was read. In the days that followed , as reactions against Muslims, and abuse of Muslims occurred, Christian leaders visited mosques and supported their Muslim brothers and sisters publicly. Many local leaders in my own church phoned me, expressing concern for Muslims in their area and the reactions they were suffering, asking how could they do something,, how could they help . Many congregations ran public meetings about Islam and began to relate to their Muslim neighbours in the area. Later when Christian churches were attacked in Sydney, Muslim leaders visited, to express concern and affirm their horror at this supposed retaliation. Last year when Muslim communities were going through a rough time and on the front pages of the news, they held a press conference. At the press conference was a Christian leader of the National council of churches, Rev John Henderson, – sitting there as a friend of the Muslims running the press conference and a symbol of support and concern for the Muslim community. It wasn’t mentioned in the press reports, but he was there, intentionally. Such actions give credence to our talk about support and care.

In my congregation two families suffered in the Bali bombing. A much loved grandson suffered horrible burns and died after a long and harrowing week. A young woman mourned the death of close friend. Many congregations in my church grieved with families and others over this senseless death and destruction. Some were angry but most were deeply saddened. People in my church were moved again, not to retaliate, but to once again be concerned for what reactions might be happening to Muslims. There is a renewed interest in learning about Islam, renewed interest in meeting and learning about the Muslim communities, a strong interest in reaching out. An as those relationships are built so new patterns of friendship and relationship gradually emerge with understanding and appreciation. Not everyone wants to do this but many do.

At a meeting of 1500 young Christina in January this year I ran a session on interfaith dialogue. It was the first time such a session had been part of this bi-ennial conference fro young Christians. I took with me a rabbi and an imam to meet the se young people rather than me speak about their faiths. They spoke of growing up in Australia as a minority faith, about being an immigrant in Australia. Because these were not speeches defending a faith but stories about being faithful, the young people felt able to ask all the questions they had, even the tough and difficult ones.. It is this kind of meeting and interaction that is also important, much like what we are doing tonight.

I visited Ambon earlier this year at the invitation of a unique group of women. A group of Muslim and Christina women who had come together to commit themselves to work for peace in a very troubled and divided community. As women they were deeply concerned that they were tiered of the killing and the violence, were grieved and deeply saddened by the loss of some nay ovoid ones. They talked about the four years of conflict and told stories of what it had been like for their families and their communities. As one Muslim woman said – we have all suffered. This remarkable group of women committed themselves to work on joint community projects and to continue to demonstrate by their commitment to each other that peace was possible and to encourage other women young and old and their men folk to see such possibility for the sake of the whole community. It was a remarkable gathering of remarkable women. It reminded me that real peace and real relationships involves risk and courage – risk to go beyond what we know, what we feel secure in, to be open to learn new things about ourselves and our communities as well as about others. It may also lead us to challenge our own communities and some of their attitudes and practices. What these women did challenged their communities. .For these women to meet they had to have police on duty in the compound to ensure their safety, safety we take for granted here in Ausrtalia..

We are at a point in our history where we have enormous opportunities to lead our communities in finding common ground and living together in peace and harmony. There are real differences in our faiths which we have to face but our relationships will not be strong if we don’t face them. But we can only face them because of the strength of our relationships. Let us continue to seek each other out, to be open and caring, delighting in each other and what we learn, able to face common difficulties and common threats. Let there be peace and let it begin with us.

Wendie Wilkie
17 October 2003

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