weaving sacred connections
reflections on interfaith initiatives
by Peter Fox
At RUC we open to circles of dignity around the Table that hospitably welcome others of different faith and belief as we encounter God at the depths of our own souls and in other people. Annually we have a service that reflects on inter spiritual connections in conversations, and includes as participants, practitioners of different Faiths and their projects. It also allows us to be hospitable to others with whom we share life and community. The Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTII) was formed in 1999 after the Parliament of World Religions met in our city in that year. Rev John Oliver was a key champion of this initiative along with Rev Gordon Oliver .A group of committed volunteers make up the team. There is a serving Board and Chairperson and Treasurer. In our new democracy the barriers of race and culture and sexual identity needed to be faced and overcome and so it was also inevitable that our conversations and dialogue across religions became crucial for establishing peaceful communities and just economies. The focus was non dogmatic, non-sectarian, openly minded tolerant and kindly respectful as projects in schools and community gave witness in action to the principles and guidelines laid out in the Charter of Compassion. These values were seen as foundational also to peace making.
The schools project, well funded ,currently involves 9 schools and 40 learners and is coordinated by Marlene Silbert, Rev Natalie Simons-Arendse and Sarah Oliver. Children are able to engage with each other in structured programmes that encourage an appreciation of diversity and different traditions. The compassion evoked from the Golden Rule -do unto others as you’d have them do unto you – is explored and practised. Any interpretations of Sacred texts that breed violence hatred or disdain are shunned.
Another project being explored is the site development of the Sacred Space project off Orange Street and below the Molteno reservoir in the CBD. The vision of an interfaith centre that John Oliver had before he died has been re formulated and a subcommittee of CTII is in discussion with city council as it’s a heritage site we have chosen. We also have secured the pro deo services of an architect. The intention is to have a space created that is calm and still and where the shift to inner life journeying is invited and made possible .
In our 2019 service at RUC we welcomed the South African prize winners of the World Interfaith Harmony week who were just back from Jordan where they received the prize for the City Prayers project in Elsies river. Land ravaged by gangsters and criminals was claimed back and many believing people of all Faiths gathered to sanctify the land . James Ellman is the initiator of this project. He also engaged with the gangsters openly in terms of the aims of the project. Berry Behr is the current Chairperson of the CTII She and James are graduating as inter faith ministers from the interfaith seminary in New York—One Spirit. At our service in 2019 we also were led in the singing of prayers from the Jewish liturgies by a Jewish cantor Belinda Silbert.
CTII honours all paths to the Divine. Its motivation has a baseline that highlights the consciousness of interconnectedness as living beings, and as we live fully in this reality, we follow through into serving and healing actions. .As Anthony de Mello said Nothing is more practical than spirituality. At a personal level I have been involved in interfaith ministry with other spiritual leaders at Hospice .My personal journey started when I was at primary school and was invited to the bar mitzvah of my Jewish friend .I had Shabbat meals at his home and was introduced to the delicious tastes of Jewish culinary delights. At Hospice Iman Salie sought me out and I was invited to teach in the themes of grief and loss in his circles of learning. My conversations with him helped me address my misconceptions of Islam .My encounters with Albert Buhr—Buddhist practitioner, author and journalist have also helped me understand the accessing of inner peace through mediation practice. There are of course within Christianity profound practices of Meditation of which the centring prayer model and Lectio Divina is one such model.
If we give ourselves openly to these encounters and connections, a virtual field of influence is created where sacred connection is enabled. I have sensed the Spirit of God speak to me through these others, and at the same time, I have more deeply understood and entered into my own Christian faith.
The Points of Common Agreement in World religions is an appended document to this commentary. It is the outcome of thirty years of discussions with leaders from the major world religions. The other important document is the charter of Compassion, available on this site as well.
I engage in this field of encounter because of Christ, as I see it as an imperative He has given us, to be going out into all the world and being the Good News.