When my late husband, Warren and I got married in 1974, our Marriage was celebrated in a Catholic Church, by two Priests, and a (then Methodist) Minister. I was Methodist. My husband was Catholic. And we were very active in our own Churches.
Yes, we heard all the stories of families of what happened when Catholics and Protestants married. But we made the conscious decision to be involved in each other’s churches, to learn from each other- and not set out to change each other.
So, moving our story forward, when we were both invited in 2016 by Father Terry Horne, our then Parish Priest, to join, the Ecumenical and Interfaith Council of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle, it felt like a very natural way of continuing that conscious decision we made in 1974, to learn from each other, not change each other. Our hearts and minds were opened, not only to Christian traditions - but also non-Christian traditions as well.
Warren died in 2020, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, and I continue to challenge myself and others about being open to learn more about Faith journeys of others.
In 2022, I organised a Church Crawl, on behalf of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Council. Well, we didn’t actually ‘crawl’, but we drove between 4 Churches.
Each Church Leader was given the task of talking about the theology of their Church, it’s local story and be open to answering questions, all in 45 minutes.
Thirty Pilgrims joined us, visiting Christchurch Cathedral, then Morning Tea; Sacred Heart Cathedral then Lunch; Broadmeadow Lutheran Church, then Russian Orthodox Church at Wallsend.
The Evaluations by our Pilgrims showed that people were open to learning from each other, and made suggestions for future events.
From these suggestions came another Crawl - this time, a Church/Faith Crawl!
On 19 July this year, fifty pilgrims joined us, we had to close bookings early, so keen were people to learn from each other! The backgrounds of our Pilgrims this year were Christian and Muslim. You may have heard an interview about the Pilgrimage that I did on local ABC Breakfast Radio, the day before.
We met at Hamilton Baptist Church where the Pastor shared, frankly, how his Congregation were at a Crossroads in their lives, and our Pilgrims were grateful for hearing their story which continued over Morning Tea; then we walked around the corner to Hamilton Salvation Army where we also had lunch. After lunch, we drove to Ukrainian Catholic Church at Adamstown where we learned also of the deep pain of his people during this current war between Russia and Ukraine. Then we went to Mayfield Mosque and rejoiced in the wonderful Hospitality of the Community. I am looking forward to seeing the evaluations.
Learning from non-Christian Faith traditions, in that we are both an Ecumenical and an Interfaith Council, has been a delight, and shows how our Region is changing. Many of us now have friendships with people of various faith traditions. The connections that the Council has built up, the many gatherings we have organised over the years, shows that people are increasingly open to new ways.
In a slightly different sense, this openness has encouraged us to organise Indigenous Spirituality Days.
Thirty-six years ago, I was ordained as a Uniting Church Minister. In more recent years, I became Chairperson of this Diocesan Council and work with fantastic, enthusiastic colleagues. In the years since at least 1974, I have been encouraged by people being increasingly open to the prompting of the Spirit, to say not how we can change each other, but how can we learn from each other.
Christine Sheppard OAM
Ecumenical and Interfaith Council
Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle.
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