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“Diversity is a positive gift” says Christians Aware January 2022 Conference

‘Transcending Divisions in a World of Diversity’ was the focus for the conference, held 14-16 January at Swanwick in Derbyshire.  It attracted around 50 Christians Aware members and around 20 joined on zoom including Chris Garland in Australia.

Bishop John Perumbalath of Bradwell called for humility in engagement with other faiths in order to transcend religious divisions. “We live in a world where diversity is a problem to be solved rather than an issue to embrace as a positive gift” he said. He called for a move beyond dialogue and for work together on issues of the common good. As Chair of the Churches Refugee Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, he highlighted refugee support, where local initiatives are often ecumenical and interfaith. He stressed the commitment of the Churches to welcome strangers and to highlight that asylum is a human right, recognising diversity “as a positive gift”.

Professor Anthony Reddie, Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture, University of Oxford <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Oxford>, and a leading black theology scholar, spoke of transcending cultural divisions and called on the gathering to face the issue of racism in Britain. He recalled that as the only black child in his reception class at school in Bradford he felt teachers, “assumed I was a problem to be solved.” He welcomed new dialogues such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and greater acknowledgement of the rights of First Nations’ communities.

Ellen Teague spoke on ‘Transcending Divisions: the Climate Crisis.’ She highlighted the collaboration between Christian Churches and other religions at November’s COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow. Images from the ‘Faiths Bloc’ of the huge 6 November march through Glasgow showed consensus on such issues as ‘No more fossil fuels’ and ‘Fund loss and Damage’. There was a call to support ecumenical, interfaith and secular initiatives to challenge destructive extractive industries and to support a ‘just’ energy transition. The ‘Action Card’ of February 2022 focuses on follow-up to COP26, including further divestment from fossil fuels and signing the ‘Healthy People, Healthy Planet’ petition.

Saturday morning’s Bible Study, led by Barbara Butler, used the story of ‘Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well’ as an example of a meeting across cultural and gender barriers. She urged reflection on where there are hostilities between peoples today and how we can bring healing.  Her book 'Just Food. Food and Farming for a Sustainable Future,' was available.

Musician Geoff Weaver led a participatory Saturday evening session on worship music on the conference theme. Leading from the piano, Geoff led the singing of hymns such as Marty Haugen’s  ‘Let us build a house where love can dwell’, ‘God of freedom, God of Justice’ by Shirley Erana Murray and international songs from Bolivia and Korea. The final prayer of the conference said: ‘As God’s forgiven and renewed people, we are sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit, ready to work for our world and its people every day.’

Events organised in 2022 include a May Pilgrimage in Somerset to sites associated with Abbot Aldhelm (c.640-709) and a summer school in North Yorkshire.

 
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