Guests from other churches and other faiths joined members of the Assembly Resourcing Unit at a Seeking Common Ground Circle session on Day 6 of the 15th Assembly.
Each of the guests were asked to share an example of “Seeking Common Ground” from their life experiences.
Fr Ruwan Palapathwala, an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Melbourne and national advisor on Interfaith Dialogue, shared a powerful story about how his life was saved by a Muslim man on a trip to Baghdad four years ago.
Fr Ruwan was on a heavily guarded trip to Iraq to visit the local Anglican Church – his driver was Hussein, a Muslim man.
He admitted initially being reluctant to place his complete trust in a Muslim driver, given the volatile political situation in the region.
However, the two men slowly got to know each other, sharing stories of family, food and other things in common.
One night, Fr Ruwan took the risk of eating at a local kebab shop, but before he finished his meal, Hussein came to the shop and told him to return to the safety of the accommodation.
He discovered later that there had been bombing not far from where he was eating. The next day, Fr Ruwan was called to the hospital. To his surprise, Hussein was there in a critical condition. He had been injured in the bombing.
“He wanted to hold my hand, and he told me how special it had been to get to know me,” Fr Ruwan recounted. “He looked at me and said ‘Father, we are all God’s children’.” He died that night.
Still much affected by the experience, Fr Ruwan said, “It really showed me how much common ground there is, and how the divine God really breaks into our lives.”
Anam Javed, Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, shared how difficult it was for Muslims in Australia to overcome misconceptions of their religion.
She shared an example of being verbally attacked and spat on at her local supermarket but when she confronted the person, they began a conversation.
“We discovered we were both disengaged and disillusioned with some ways, and we actually ended up having coffee together,” Anam shared.
Elissa Roper, a doctoral candidate and member of the Victorian Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission spoke about her journey into the Catholic Church and the impact of the different people she met along the way.
“Pope Francis points out that our faith life is a journey and that you’ve got all sorts of companions on that journey and life is an invitation to learn more about them.”
Agnes Kean, a Baha’i woman, spoke about establishing the City of Dandenong Interfaith Network 30 years ago which brings people from all the major faiths together on an equal footing.
“People come to understand and learn from each other so we can have peace and harmony in this world. For me, the common ground is always there, whether we seek it or not.”
The session was hosted by Rev. Michael Barnes, the Convenor of the Uniting Church Relations with Other Faiths Committee for the past three years.
Michael affirmed the idea that there was already much common ground among people of different faiths, churches, and people of no faith. He urged all to go and seek it.
Join the Seeking Common Ground Circle to continue sharing stories about how we connect with people of other faiths, people of no faith as well as our Christian brothers and sisters.