Thursday, 15 November 2012

UCA-Jewish Community dialogue

Tuesday 13 November 2012 was the date for the latest meeting of the regular dialogue between the Uniting Church and the Jewish Community in Australia.

Six Uniting Church members and seven Jewish participants met in the offices of the Uniting Church Assembly in Sydney for a day of sharing, discussing, and exploring. This is the 22nd year of these dialogues, which encourage mutual understanding and respect in relationships between members of the two faith communities which are represented.

A previous meeting of the dialogue group, earlier this year, took place at King David School in Melbourne. To start this dialogue, Rev. Matthew Wilson read a section of his recently-completed PhD thesis on theological models of interfaith understanding. The thesis explores how people of diverse faith can develop respectful and constructive relationships across the faiths—and particularly how Christians might consider ‘the religious outsider’ to be a welcome part of ‘the kingdom of God’. The discussion was robust and wide-ranging.

Each dialogue this year has focussed on ‘wisdom literature’ from the Hebrew Scriptures. In May, Rev. Dr Howard Wallace offered a paper on the book of Qoheleth (or Ecclesiastes) in which he explored the book’s view of hevel (traditionally translated as ‘vanity’). In November, three participants offered perspectives on the book of Job. Rev. Elizabeth Raine explored the opening chapters of the book, which set the scene of disastrous suffering, out of which Job begins a conversation with his friends, and ultimately with God, about the reasons for suffering and the way to respond to it.

Rev. Dr Howard Wallace continued with a careful reading of the last chapter of the book, in which Job appears to have accepted his fate. There was engaged exploration of the variety of ways that a key verse could be translated and interpreted. Then Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence presented a wide sweep of Jewish interpretations and understandings of the book, and led the group into a vigorous discussion of the meaning of suffering and the appropriate responses that human beings might make.

Such discussions help strengthen relationships amongst members of the group, and allow for differences of opinion and strongly-held convictions to be heard and debated in a spirit of generosity and acceptance. The strength of these relationships amongst leaders of each religious community ensures that difficult public issues can be addressed in a respectful and constructive manner.

The dialogue has been co-convened by Mr Jeremy Jones of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry since its origins in the early 1990s. The Uniting Church contingent was led by Rev. Dr John Bodycomb for many years, and then by Rev. Michael Barnes. For the last few years, Rev. Dr John Squires and Rev. Elizabeth Raine have filled this role. The November meeting marked the end of the participation of these two members: Dr Squires (a member for 12 years) and Rev. Raine (a member for 6 years). This was marked by a brief presentation and expressions of appreciation from the other participants.

The next dialogue will take place in May 2013, and will include discussion of rites of death and mourning in each faith tradition. The November 2013 meeting will explore the significant theme of Exodus.

Rev. Dr John Squires, Co-Convenor