21 July 2015

Asking tough questions and sharing
experiences of inter-religious living

The bell tower at the High Leigh Conference Centre, the venue for the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency, Us (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

This morning we were asking the tough question: “How is the Gospel good news for women?” Tough questions continued to be asked this afternoon in the workshops at the annual conference of Us (formerly USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) in High Leigh.

I was at a workshop on “Inter-Religious Living,” with Ms Anjum Anwar MBE, Exchange and Dialogue Development Officer, Blackburn Cathedral; Canon Chris Chivers, Us Chair of Trustees; and Ms Sheba Sultan of the Church of Pakistan.

Canon Chivers explained the different perceptions in Britain of Inter-Faith dialogue and Inter-Religious living.

For hundreds of years, Muslims and Christians have lived together peacefully in Zanzibar. Similar dynamics are found in parts of South Africa and other places.

He spoke of how contexts allow different conversations to take place in different countries, and safe places are found in different ways.

We heard stories and experiences from Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Bosnia, Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt and other places, as well as Britain, and we were reminded of the need to listen to the problems of each community.

In Pakistan, for example, 80% of the people facing charges under the blasphemy laws are Muslims. In many African countries, Muslims are being alienated from their families, neighbours and surrounding cultures by the way it Islam is being Arabised.

Where does divisiveness come from, and who sows the seeds? How do we honour difference? These are difficult questions. But then, as Chris Chivers said this afternoon, Christians are not very good at honouring differences among ourselves, and Anglicans and the Anglican Communion are a prime example of this.

The other workshops this afternoon looked at:

• Journey with Us, Us Global Relations Programme Manager Habib Nader with volunteers from the Us world church placement programme.

• Us together – mission, memories and stories. This is a time to share and explore experiences of the world church and look at how this can help shape future work.

• Asking nicely – an opportunity to critique the promotion of the Us Connect scheme for churches, the Bray Circle membership scheme, and our legacy materials.

• Stronger together – learning how Us and the Anglican Alliance are working in partnership.

The journey continued later this afternoon with a second session to reflect on how we communicate ‘Us’, and the Us Council meets after dinner.

The Council of Us meets this evening, with reports and the election of new trustees. We conclude looking at “Our Journey” tomorrow morning at two sessions, asking about the next steps and exploring new ways to communicate ‘Us’, asking what excites us about the work of Us.

The conference comes to an end with the Rev Dr Monodeep Daniel of the Delhi Brotherhood presiding at the Closing Eucharist, when the preacher is Deaconess Dr Rachele Evie Vernon, Us Global Relations Theological Adviser.

High Leigh, the venue for the Us annual conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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