Interfaith Network explores connection in a pluralist world
The 6th annual meeting of the Network for Inter Faith Concerns in Europe, North America and Canada (NIFENAC) was held on the afternoon of Monday 11th September with participants in attendance from Canada, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the United States. The network members include Anglican clergy from all participating jurisdictions and interfaith guests. The meeting was hosted online by the Church of Ireland Centre in Dublin City University. The network is chaired by Archbishop Michael Jackson who was the chair of NIFCON, its predecessor.
NIFENAC is one of the networks whose purpose is to feed into the Anglican Communion Inter Faith Commission. Following a meeting of Primates of the Communion in 2016, the Commission was founded to energise interfaith life and work across the Communion. The role of its networks, including NIFENAC, is to feed in their regional experience to its understanding of Anglican interfaith life.
At the 6th Annual meeting of NIFENAC, the Chair offered a key note address which explored ways in which people can respect and honour each other’s religious traditions in a pluralist world enabling them, for example, to pray side–by–side or to share interfaith public events and to do so with integrity. The paper also considered the particular creative role that cathedrals can play in cities with a very belief diverse population in reaching out to welcome and to invitationally share space. Bishops can use cathedrals in particular ways to commission Christians to engage in collaborative discipleship and to witness Christian love in action invitationally to their neighbours of other world faiths.
The paper also grappled with the negative impact of Covid–19, not only on individual churches and denominations, but on interfaith engagement. While it acknowledged the limited focus on interfaith engagement at Lambeth 2022, the keynote address was positive about the potential of the Lambeth Calls and the renewed focus on the 5 Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion. The keynote argued that the Third, Fourth and Fifth Marks in particular lend themselves to the finding of common ground interested in the common good across world faiths. They enable us collectively to live out the prayer of our common belief.
The keynote address was followed by a lively and wide–ranging discussion. Participants talked about their regional experiences of the problems left behind by Covid–19 closures of places of worship and the widespread focus on the need now for restructuring and retrenchment. They also noted the positive potential of the 5 Marks of Mission which offer very real potential for interfaith dialogue and engagement. There was conversation about the different ways in which churches no longer needed by traditional communities might be repurposed for community or interfaith use so that they can remain as sacred spaces rather than becoming pubs or going to other commercial uses. The importance of respectful relationships across faith groups was emphasised and examples from a range of jurisdictions about the sharing of sacred space were shared.
The second half of the meeting was devoted to three in–depth presentations from individual regions focusing either on a new interfaith project or giving an update on existing projects. The meeting concluded with some plans to prepare for the 7th meeting of the Network in 2024.