Right now, interfaith dialogue is so important. We have just finished celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW). Endorsed by the UN, the week was an opportunity to highlight the interfaith movement and embrace friendship between people of different faiths.
Relations with Other Faiths used the week to encourage people to think about what they can do to contribute interfaith harmony. Tips posted on our Facebook page included getting to know someone from another faith, hosting an interfaith gathering or learning more about why the Uniting Church values interfaith relationships. I encourage you to explore the resources on the ROF website as you think about reaching out to people of other faiths in your community.
One example of an organisation doing its part to promote interfaith harmony is the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA). ISRA enrolled the first students to study Islamic Studies in an Australian university through its partnership with Charles Sturt University. As of this year, 375 people are enrolled in the ISRA CSU program. ISRA Executive Director Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp says interfaith is a huge focus of their teaching. “It provides a platform for Muslims to integrate into Australian society while maintaining their authentic Muslim identity and through this, they become more confident to engage with Australian society at all levels," he says.
As we strive towards better ways of understanding each other, it is also important to reflect on who we are as Christians. This includes owning our own failures and dark times. Rev. Michael Barnes touches on this in his reflection on “Je Suis Charlie” – the hashtag created after the fatal attacks in Paris.
Michael reminds us that the values we hold in common are far greater than what divides us. May we remember this as we strive together for peace and harmony.
On behalf of the national Church, I am delighted to pay tribute to Rev. Veitinia Waqabaca, the first Fijian woman ordained in the UCA, as she retires from ministry. Talatala (Rev.) Waqabaca has been a strong and dedicated leader of the Fijian community and a role model and mentor for the next generation of leaders. Hundreds gathered at Parramatta Mission in NSW on 24 January to give her a traditional Fijian farewell.
Rev. Waqabaca first felt the call to ministry when she was 16. She did not realise that she would be married, have eight children and move to Australia before she would fulfil this call on her life. On her retirement, Rev. Waqabaca recalled the high sense of privilege she felt when she began her ministry, initially at the Fijian Parish of Canterbury and later with the Westmead and Fijian congregations in Parramatta for 12 years. When I first began this role, Rev.Waqabaca was my minister at Westmead. During this time, I learnt why her style of ministry – simple and connected to life – is so valued both within and outside the Fijian community.
Rev. Waqabaca has also been a great contributor to the UCA Fijian National Conference, as Deputy Chairperson for 10 years.
Chairperson Jone Lotu commended her leadership. “Talatala Veitinia brings with her so much experience on the relevant issues that Fijians within the Uniting Church face each day. She excels in bridging cultures, age groups, genders and ideas.”
We are thankful that Rev. Waqabaca both heard God’s call on her life and found a place in the UCA where that call could become reality. Vinaka vaka levu Veitinia.
I look forward to the meeting of the National Reference Committee for Multicultural and Cross Cultural Ministry from 21-25 February in Adelaide. No doubt, it will be a time rich in discussion and collaboration. Keep an eye on the Assembly website for reports on the gathering.
Lent begins next week on Feb 18. For me it’s a time for us to reflect on our relationship with God and creation, and to look toward the hope we have in our risen Lord. For many people within the Uniting Church the Lent Event experience has given real, tangible meaning to that expression of hope.
Lent Event, UnitingWorld’s movement to live simply over 40 days and donate the money saved, also gives us an opportunity to connect more deeply with our brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world and to learn from each other as we make the journey together.
Through our Bible Study, written this year by Pacific theologian Rev. Dr Cliff Bird (our Regional Coordinator for the Pacific), and our daily prayers and reflections, Lent Event gives us time to step back from our hectic routines and reflect on the lives of others and the world we share with them. I’m particularly looking forward to using our new App this year – it delivers prayers and reflections straight to phones and tablets.
As we learn from each other and acknowledge the challenges we face together, we become genuinely engaged in our global church as well as in our journey with Jesus and the hope we share in Christ for a renewed creation where justice and peace reign.
Get in touch with us at UnitingWorld for more information on Lent Event on 02 8267 4267, visit our website www.lentevent.com to download your resources for worship. Click here to download the App from iTunes for your iPhone or iPad.Click here to download from Google Play for your Android Smart Phone or Tablet.
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