The Uniting Church in Australia is hosting six Iftar Dinners in five different states as an expression of its desire to build a more peaceful world with people of other faiths.
Iftar is the breaking of the fast during Ramadan for people of Muslim faith. The sharing of this meal among people of different faiths is becoming a popular and powerful symbol of friendship and harmony.
“In a world that is easily divided by differences, it is so important that people of faith build bridges together,” Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan told 130 guests at the Iftar Dinner held at Parramatta Mission in Sydney on 5 June.
The dinner was co-hosted by the Assembly, the Synod of NSW/ACT and Uniting with Muslim partners the Affinity Intercultural Foundation.
Keynote speaker was Muslim food blogger Lina Jebeile, who has a following of 32,000 people on her Instagram Page, The Lebanese Plate.
Lina spoke of how she feared for her children’s safety whenever a prominent public figure made negative comments directed at Muslims, inciting fear and division in the community.
“Stopping (my daughters) from being alone in public wasn’t going to work. But I also didn’t want them to develop a resentment for the country they were born in - one that they love, the only one they call home.”
Lina has sought ways to bring people from different backgrounds together, usually around food.
“Food is the most common ground between all people, no matter their background. I call on more of us to use food as a stepping stool. Use it to open dialogue. To ask questions. To just have a conversation. Use it to celebrate our differences and please use it to appreciate our similarities.”
Affinity Executive Director Ahmet Polat added: “At Affinity, we believe it is necessary to reserve in your heart a seat for everyone. Love and peace have the capacity to change the rhythm of our world.”
Master of Ceremonies on the night, NSW/ACT Moderator Simon Hansford commented on the warm spirit in the room, “Tonight we are creating reserves of hope, justice and relationship that will last beyond a meal.”
For the first time, the Uniting Church hosted an Iftar Dinner in Tasmania at the Scots Memorial Uniting Church in Hobart on 1 June.
VIC/TAS Moderator Rev Sharon Hollis and Hobart Mosque Imam Sabri Samson were special guests.
“When we live as friends we both learn more about ourselves and the other,” Rev Hollis said.
“When this is done in a spirit of respect and friendship we enhance each other’s understanding of our faith and the other’s faith, contribute to the wellbeing of society and make peace possible.”
In Brisbane, the Queensland Synod hosted an Iftar Dinner for 40 guests on 3 June, including representatives of the Islamic Council of Queensland and Holland Park Mosque.
Guests heard Janeeth Deen of the Queensland Muslim Historical Society talk about the diverse history of the Muslim community in Queensland and a panel reflected on how faith sustains and shapes life.
Reflecting on the night, QLD Moderator Rev David Baker said, “Understanding and overcoming distance and fear happens when we hear the stories of others and tell our stories.”
The Synod of VIC/TAS also hosted two Iftar dinners in Melbourne. St Thomas Uniting Church in Craigieburn hosted its second Iftar with the Australian Intercultural Foundation on 25 May. On 2 June, Carlton Church of All Nations hosted an Iftar organised by Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV)and the Victorian Council of Churches.
ICV general manager Ayman Islam said the Iftar dinner was a great demonstration of interfaith friendship.
“It’s great to be hosted in a church and great for the Muslim community to come in and experience that warmth and welcome,” Mr Islam said.
“These kind of events really break down stereotypes and barriers – there’s really nothing like food to bring out conversations.”
The Synod of Western Australia hosted its first Iftar Dinner at St Peter and Emmaus Church, an Anglican and Uniting Church fellowship, at Joondanna in Perth on Saturday 9 June.
General Secretary Rev. David de Kock welcomed about 60 guests to share a Moroccan-flavoured dinner.
Saliha Yildiz, year 8 student at Fountain College, spoke to guests about what participating in Ramadan means to her.
“Ramadan comes with many blessings,” she said. “Fasting also comes with many benefits, especially when we’re about to break our fast because we then realise the value of food; how precious it is to drink water and have a plate of food ready for you everyday."
One message resounded for me at the recent Inspiracy Festival in Newcastle - if we want to solve the climate crisis, it starts with a change of mind.
The Festival was held in Newcastle from 17-20 May, organised by a group of passionate people who share an interest in justice, spirituality, music and art.
Hosted at Adamstown and Merewether Uniting Churches, the Festival brought these interests together with a diverse program, including a film competition, workshops, talks, artistic installations and musical performances.
Participants travelled from across the country coming from different denominations and backgrounds.
Theologian Dr Dianne Rayson introduced the idea of the Anthropocene – a new geological age in which human activity is the dominant influence on the earth.
As we enter this new era, Dianne said, we must refocus our faith on our interconnected relationships with each other, with the rest of creation and with God.
“Not only do we belong to the world, but we are citizens of earth with responsibility for the earth’s flourishing,” Dianne said.
Dr Mick Pope, meteorologist, author and theologian, outlined what science is telling us about our impact on climate change.
Last year, Australia recorded its warmest winter on record for average maximum temperatures. Italy experienced record breaking heat, there were bushfires in Portugal and severe cyclones in Texas and Florida.
Contributing to this is the unchecked and unequal use of the earth’s resources.
“If everyone in the world had the same lifestyle as us (consuming the same amount of resources), the planet would collapse overnight,” said Mick.
“How do we share earth’s resources equally? We say we want flourishing for all but not at the expense of the flourishing.”
As Christians, Mick said the Bible guided us to love our neighbour and care for all creation. This meant learning to live alongside the planet and making significant changes to lessen our impact on the earth.
Tebeio Tamaton from Pacific Calling Partnership spoke about living on the frontline of climate change in Kiribati where rising sea levels threaten the future of the tiny nation.
Kiribati faces regular drought and flood, the loss of infrastructure to damaging tides, contamination of fresh water and food crops and a decreasing fish population, a major source of food and income for the people.
Despite the difficulties they face, Tebeio said the people of Kiribati do not want to relocate because of their deep connection to the land. Leaving the island would mean leaving behind their ancestors buried there.
Thea Ormerod, of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, emphasised the importance of listening to people living with the reality of climate change.
“People need to be listened to. If we really listened to the voices of people in Africa, the Pacific, Asia, and our own Indigenous people, if really allowed ourselves to be moved, it wouldn’t be that difficult to make the changes we need to. To take the train, instead of the car.”
“It also gives a great sense of purpose to our lives, to be able to stand there and challenge ourselves as strongly and radically as we need to.”
The Festival provoked all who attended to consider what it would take to rethink our systems, re-evaluate our priorities, rediscover our faith and recognise our own responsibility to care for the earth.
At the conclusion of the weekend, Adamstown Uniting Church was presented with its third Five Leaf Eco-Award, an ecumenical program that rewards faith communities for taking environmental action to become more sustainable.
Adamstown Uniting Church won the award for its environmental outreach, including fundraising for UnitingWorld climate projects in the Pacific, working to increase the sustainability of their Pudding Kitchen and for its part in organising the Inspiracy Festival.
Five Leaf Eco-Awards Director Jessica Morthorpe said of the festival: “It was so awesome to hear about climate and sustainability from so many creative angles and to be able to really connect with the emotional and human impact elements of the climate crisis through art, poetry, video and music."
At the 15th Assembly meeting in July, the Assembly will consider a new statement on Climate Change and proposals which call the Church to listen to others, to advocate and to act. The Statement encourages us to delve deeper into our understanding of faith in this new era and our Christian calling to respond.
Read the Statement "For the Whole Creation" in the 15th Assembly Proposals.
The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has welcomed a number of important initiatives for First Australians in the 2018 Federal Budget.