What we learn from each other

By Rev. Christine Sheppard OAM Uniting Church Minister Chair – Ecumenical and Interfaith Council Catholic Diocese of Maitland–Newcastle  When I was at United Theological College in Sydney in the mid 1980s, I was introduced by a Lecturer as a “Passionate Ecumaniac” – which I took as a compliment.  I have lived always in the context of What can we learn from each other? I have been involved in ecumenism at local, state and international level. As a Uniting Church Minister married to Warren, a Catholic layman, I was invited with Warren in 2015 to join the Ecumenical and Interfaith  Council of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland– Newcastle.  We accepted the invitation with great joy. This Council is strongly supported by Bishop Bill Wright, the local Bishop. I think I can safely say that this is the only Hunter group that is consistently working in this area of faith. The ecumenical aspect of the Council’s role came easily to me. The other aspect, interfaith, was new to me. I admit that initially I paid lip service to this aspect. In 2001, Warren and I completed an Ecumenical Summer School at Tantur in the Holy Land. The faculty was Lutheran and Catholic with visiting Muslim and Jewish scholars. We returned to Newcastle but with little contact with other faiths. Newcastle has been changing and being on the Council has brought me into contact with some amazing people of non-Christian traditions. Each month, the Council meets and we pray, engage in some education in our areas of outreach and organise.  Each month we have one activity, interfaith and ecumenical on alternate months. Initially our interfaith outreach was to the Hebrew congregation, a small community in Newcastle and the Muslim Community. This year we have met with the Buddhist community. Our focus in 2019 will be what can we learn from the local Hindu and Sikh communities. In 2017, I was appointed Chairperson of the Council, a great privilege. In July, at Maitland I chaired a forum where a local Iman, the Catholic Bishop, the local Anglican Bishop and the first Muslim Chaplain at Newcastle University. Their topic was “What does Mary mean to us?” Many Christians were surprised how our Muslim sisters and brothers held Mary in high honour. Great conversations took place over plenty of hot food. In September, we have been invited to the Mayfield Mosque for an information night and an invitation to attend worship. This year at Jesmond Park Uniting Church we had a forum on how Lay Ministry is seen in different Christian denominations with speakers from the Salvation Army, Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Church. On another occasion we also invited people to the Ukrainian Catholic Church which was attended by Christians and Jews. Uniting Church members have attended all of our forums. They find out about the forums either through The Hunter Presbytery bulletin or by personal invitation. Uniting Church women have especially supported our annual Women’s Peace Meal, held near International Women’s Day. Muslim, Christian and Jewish women attend. Uniting Church members also regularly attend the Morning Teas hosted by the Catholic Bishop in different parts of Newcastle.  The Morning Tea in April, held in the Catholic School Hall at Wallsend, had people from many Christian, as well as Jewish, Muslim and Ba’hai traditions. Again, what can we learn from each other occurs over good food. We see good hospitality as essential! As you hear, we are very encouraged by these activities and how people are responding. I thank God that Warren and I can share our journey of 44 years in the Uniting Church – Catholic traditions, and that we can encourage others in new insights.