The NSW Ecumenical Council gives report on its activities, and in particular, the activities of its Interfaith Commission over the past 12 months. The NSW Ecumenical Council welcomes the NSW Government in easing the restrictions for more congregants to attend their local church and faith communities. Some interfaith activities were held face to face, others were conducted digitally.
The members of the Interfaith Commission Rev Fr Dr Shenouda, Debra Porter, Liz Field.
Interfaith Commission of the Ecumenical Council of NSW Objectives:
1. Building a better society through faith.
2. Building bridges with people of other faith.
3. Building understanding by listening, hearing and learning.
4. Engaging and celebrating diversity.
5. Respectful in discussion with others.
6. Respectfully endorsing harmony.
7. Sharing and exchanging interfaith respect and stories.
We bring this annual report to the Annual General Meeting with mixed emotions because while part of the reporting period has seen some great time, most part of the period has gone through and still going through the unprecedented time of COVID 19. However, we thank God that despite lockdown and social distancing the Interfaith Commission has been able to keep in touch with one another using ZOOM and have mutually supported each other. As a matter of fact the coming together of different faith communities via ZOOM at this unprecedented time have strengthened the bond between people of different faiths, and it has been instrumental in stopping the spread of the COVID 19.
Please find below the major activities the Interfaith Commission have been part of:
The movie Sultan and the Saint was screened on 5 September at the Events Cinema in Parramatta to mark the 800th anniversary of the historic meeting between St Francis of Assisi and the Sultan Al Kamil of Egypt which resulted in truce and some degree of reconciliation after the Crusade. More than 200 people viewed it and at the end there was QA style discussion. It was well supported by a number of NSW Ecumenical Council members.
International Day of Peace service was held on 21 September at Parramatta Mission Fellowship Centre. Three hundred fifty people from 16 different religions were in attendance. The day being Saturday the focus was on children and young people. One hundred children took part in the service either by offering prayers from their respective religions or by providing songs, dances and music. The keynote address was given by Professor Peter Shergold, the Chancellor of Western Sydney University. Members from the NSWEC attended the service including Ms Wies Schuringa, the Very Rev Dr Fr Shenouda Mansour, Fr Claude Mostowik MSC, Deacon Nishan Basmajian and Debra Porter. It was a great celebration of religious and cultural diversities.
The Interfaith Commission took part in an Interfaith service at Pitt Street UCA in support of the asylum seekers in general and the Tamil Asylum Seeker family in particular. It was well organised, attended and supported.
The Interfaith Commission Attended the Diwali, a festival of lights on 21 October at the Museum of Contemporary Art attended by religious leaders of many faith and political leaders of all stripes. To mark this Festival of Lights the Premier of NSW Hon’ble Ms Gladys Berejiklian put the Opera House lighting on.
On 28 October The Interfaith Commission attended the Bicentenary celebration of Baháʼu’lláh the founder of the Baháʼí Faith at West Ryde. It was great opportunity to bring a Christian message to a gathering of 200 people.
On 6 November The Interfaith Commission attended a multi-faith meeting called “Power of Love” organised by Sydney Alliance to organise a remembrance service in Town Hall next year to remember the victims of Christ Church and Colombo terrorist acts.
On 10 November – with a number of members of the Interfaith Commission members and Christians of other denominations – took part in the Divine Steps Festival at the Pyrmont Bay Park. It was organised by the Sikhs of NSW on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of their founder Guru Nanak. This story is interesting as they approached me as a Uniting Church Minster to give a Christian message, a prayer and to organise a choir to sing. But instead of bringing one church I took the opportunity to make a bigger Christian presence by bringing the NSW Ecumenical Council in. And it was really great. I think this is first time we had a great publicity. In that big park among 5000 attendees the logo of the NSWEC was prominently displayed on two huge electronic screens; we were given a stall where we displayed our literature; from the centre stage I was able to bring a brief Christian message, a Christian prayer and a young girl from my church sang a beautiful Christian song.
Ecumenical & Interfaith Pilgrimage: On Saturday 30 November a group of thirty six people including a number of Hindus and Sikhs visited the St Mary, St Cosman and St Demian Coptic Church at Kellyville. The Parish Priest Fr Joshua Tadros gave a brief history of the Coptic Church and their beliefs and practices. There was a robust Q&A time. About twenty five Sunday School children presented beautiful Christian songs including a liturgical song that is nearly two thousand years old. A delicious Egyptian dinner was served at the end. During the dinner people enjoyed great fellowship with their new friends and interesting theological discussions took place between Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.
On 7 December The Interfaith Commission attended an interfaith gathering organised by Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia. It was another great opportunity when stories of the work of NSW Ecumenical Council in general and its Interfaith Commission in particular were shared with people from many faiths.
The Interfaith Commission helped the 75th Anniversary of the Hiroshima Day Multifaith Service on 6 August organised by ICAN (International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons). The Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer and President of ICAN Dr Sue Wareham gave the keynote address.
The Fifth Annual Community Peace Dinner marked the season of Christmas at Parramatta Mission on Saturday 7 December. Following on from the International Peace Day interfaith service, the dinner brought together a diverse group of 115 people including representatives of many Christian denominations, different faiths, politics, local community and advocacy organisations as well as Hon’ble Ms Julia Finn, State member for Granville. The Guest Speaker, Dr Deidre Palmer, National President of the Uniting Church in Australia, in her address emphasised the importance of building bridges between faith communities for peace in society. Very Rev FR Dr Shenouda Mansour and Cr Phil Bradley from the Parramatta City Council in their reflections highlighted the importance of love and friendship in the face of hatred and divisiveness. Six female guests representing Aboriginal, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai and Christian communities lit the Peace Candle at the beginning of the Dinner. This special community dinner contributed much to keeping the spirit of mutual understanding and enrichment alive particularly when our diversity is challenged and in the face of fearbased judgements and one-sided conclusions and behaviours.
Responding to catastrophic bushfires, on Sunday 19 January, an inter-faith, community service was organised at Parramatta Mission Fellowship Hall. The service, attended by over 80 people, expressed love, care and support for those who have suffered, lost family members or homes, or in any way struggled during Australia’s bushfire and extreme weather crisis. The gathering also gave thanks for emergency services personnel and our country’s generous volunteers. Eleven religious groups offered prayers. Many members from the wider community took part in the service including Hon’ble Dr Geoff Lee, Minister for Multiculturalism who lit the Peace candle at the beginning of the service. The water ceremonies during the service were especially meaningful. Once again the Interfaith Community stood together in solidarity with the victims of bushfire and expressed their love and concern.
On 11 March The Interfaith Commission attended a meeting with Hon’ble Julie Owens, Federal Member for Parramatta, Hon’ble Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney General and a number of religious leaders from different faiths to discuss the Freedom of Religion Bill.
The Interfaith Commission attended ten ZOOM meetings with Multicultural Minister Dr Geoff Lee and Multicultural NSW Religious Leaders’ Forum in relation to COVID 19. These meetings were very helpful as we were able to discuss preventive measures with the Minster, health officials and support one another.
On 13 May the first virtual Iftar Dinner was held. The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer and Jia Ahmed, Editor of AMUST gave the joint keynote address.