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CCTC hosts interfaith event

Written by Tod & Ana Gobledale
October 3, 2006

Tod & Ana Gobledale - Australia

CCTC hosts interfaith event to "Celebrate the diversity of our world, learn about other religions and explore ways we all grapple with the mysteries of life." Helen Heath, CCTC graduate, named Citizen of the Year 2006 for her work with the local Interfaith Network.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40 NRSV

Walking in Darkness...

A familiar Australian scene...a summer’s day at the beach. Beautiful shore, swimmers, surfers. Suddenly, an angry mob shatters the idyllic scene, preying on individuals who look different from them.

I can scarcely fathom the violent scenes on the TV screen. Can this be the easy-going Australia in which I live? This must be film footage from the past, I think. But, no. The events unfolding before me are the prelude to nearly a week of tension in the beachfront communities south of Sydney, the disturbing Cornulla riots of December 2005.

Walking in Light...

Aza, dressed in the traditional Muslim hijab, approaches the podium. Professional, slender, smiling. I wonder from which country she comes. To my surprise, her broad accent immediately grounds her as a born and bred Australian. And her comments about Australian Rules Footy cement her identity as a true Aussie! I realize that I need this gathering, aptly titled “Many Faiths: One People,” as much as anyone else in the room.

53 people, representing numerous religions and some non-religious, have responded to our invitations in both the secular press and religious networks to “Celebrate the diversity of our world and learn about other religions.... Together explore ways we all grapple with the mysteries of life.” We listen to and learn from members of five world faiths– a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu, a Sikh and a member of the Baha’i faith, each sharing their personal faith journey and understanding of God.

Sharing her deep relationship with God, Aza, the Muslim, states, “For me worshiping God is a need as basic as eating, drinking and sleeping...” The Sikh shares, “God is nobody’s private property. No one can claim a monopoly on God. God belongs to everyone.” The Christian, Helen Heath, a recent graduate of CCTC, adds, “My experience tells me that people have many different ways of understanding and reaching out to God.” Each stands firm in their own faith, yet remains compassionately understanding of the other and their faith. A shared Bahai’i teaching seems apt, “...the religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”

The openness and candor of each speaker impresses me. They appear to exhibit no fear, no hesitation to share freely and from their hearts. Both their words and gestures express not just respect of the other religions, but a trust that goes beyond respect. These 5 faithful people share a profound commitment to interfaith education and friendship and are active on the Interfaith Network of the City of Greater Dandenong, neighbour city to Melbourne.

Living with Diversity

Australia, like the USA, is a land of diversity. It’s current peoples stretch from original Aboriginal communities to a variety of European transplants, from the Vietnamese who arrived in the 1970's to the immigrants from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, China, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and most recently from Sudan, to name just a few. Only yesterda your dentist from Sri Lanka described the people employed by his little office as “a veritable United Nations” with his coworkers from Turkey, Jordan, Singapore, and Greece.

With this mix of people there is a great need to be sensitive and aware of the “other” in our midst, the “other’s” language, culture, traditions. Last December we became freshly aware of the ugly racism simmering in the minds and hearts of many. All too frequently we hear Christian groups vilify Muslims. Our work as Christians remains to proclaim the Good News that God is Love, and to live out Christ’s command to love our neighbours, ALL our neighbours.

Signs of Hope

There are signs of hope. Regular gatherings of Muslim and Christian women in our municipality promote harmony and understanding. Numerous town councils have hosted communitywide interfaith events seeking to foster education and friendship. And organizations like the Interfaith Network of the City of Greater Dandenong continue to create partnerships between faith communities and civic authorities in order to “promote respect for all” and with the hope of leading future generations “to live in a community where there is respect for the integrity of others’ beliefs, cultures and traditions...enabling the community as a whole to live together in peace and harmony.”

January 26 was Australia Day, a national day on which outstanding citizens throughout the country are honoured. Helen Heath, member of the Churches of Christ was awarded citizen of the Year for the City of Greater Dandenong for her work with the Interfaith Network. We give thanks that we have been blessed with the opportunity to walk with and learn from people like Helen who demonstrate Christ’s love for all humanity, for all the members of God’s family. (Matt. 25:40)

Shalom, Tod and Ana

P.S. In May, Thandiwe graduates from Pomona College in Religious Studies. In February, Mandla started at University of Melbourne in Creative Arts. Tod & Ana continue at CCTC through 2007.

The Gobledales serve the Common Global Ministries Board at Churches of Christ Theological College (Seminary) in Australia. They are accompanied by their 16-year old son, Mandla, who attends Rowville Secondary College, the local high school. Their 19-year old daughter, Thandiwe, continues her university studies at Pomona College, in Claremont, California.



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