For many in attendance the DIFA conference is a regular event, but among them were a few, like me, for whom this occasion was a first. We arrived uncertain of what we were stepping into, and a little overawed by the venue. Questions, such as, ‘exactly what is Presence and Engagement all about?’, and, ‘what, if any, is to be our role within it?’, foremost in our minds.
During the morning session the Reverend Dr Samuel Wells addressed the question, ‘What does it mean to be with people of other faiths?’ His description of the dimensions of ‘Being with’ others was compelling: the starting place being, ‘mystery’, a place which is beyond thinking that we’ll know what we’ll find there. This type of meeting has the potential of being able to delight in the other and being open to receiving a gift from them. A gift which enriches our own faith. Samuel spoke of the journey of the Wise men, which took them first to Jerusalem, and then on to Bethlehem. In Jerusalem they received knowledge of the one they were looking for, but they did not discover who He was until they looked upon him in Bethlehem. Our journey together needs to take us to Bethlehem, for it is through Bethlehem that the glory of Jesus is revealed, both to us as Christians, and to those of other faiths.
If there is truth in what Samuel says, then the challenge to the church is to consider and discover meeting places of ‘mystery’ as we engage with those of other faiths in our parishes. We are challenged to find practical ways of walking the hidden route to Bethlehem with them, rather than the well-trodden path to Jerusalem.
The Parish Church of St Paul Manningham