Faith leaders share their dreams for the future
From embedding faith outside the church to a ‘waking nightmare’ caused by crimes against the planet
Faith leaders from different backgrounds had the opportunity to share their dreams for the future of their faith at this year’s Ecumenical Bible Week ‘Thinking Allowed’ event. The result was a hugely varied evening of thought provoking contributions with everything from prayer, mission and culture to climate change, reconciliation and God’s call in the pandemic up for discussion.
The question posed for the evening: “What is your personal dream of faith into the future?” It was addressed by Archbishop Dermot Farrell, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin; Archbishop Michael Jackson, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin; the Revd Lorraine Kennedy–Ritchie, Minister of Clontarf and Scots Presbyterian Church; Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, Rabbi of the Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation; Sr Liz Murphy, Sisters of Mercy and former Secretary General of AMRI; and the Revd Dr Sahr Yambasu, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and Superintendent of St Patrick’s Waterford Circuit. The chairperson of the panel was the Revd Alan Boal, Minister of Abbey Presbyterian Church.
‘You hope the world will be transformed’
Archbishop Dermot Farrell opened proceedings with the observation that faith was the substance of things hoped for and the realities of the unseen. He said he was living his faith in a culture that did not share his faith and this demanded courage and strength and involved having to bear witness to God in society. The challenge for him was to bring the Gospel to the people – people in the parishes, in culture, to people who didn’t know Christ and to people who may find it difficult to live their lives in the Good News. But he said the Apostles in the Upper Room were able to go out and spread the Gospel in much more hostile circumstances.
“You hope the world will be transformed,” Archbishop Farrell said. “Sometimes I feel vulnerable and weak. But sometimes God does his best work when I am out of the way. Faith for me is a response to God. […] Faith gives me a framework or contest for understanding various aspects of my life. The heart of faith is not the words formulated but God speaks to me through the power of the Spirit.”
Faith must embed outside the church
Archbishop Michael Jackson said there was little point in dreaming about faith into the future without acquainting yourself with faith in the past adding that the contemporary church was too hung up on short term gains without a real sense or understanding of long term goals. This meant that it kept inventing work for itself when it needed to trust to God.
He added that faith would have to embed outside the church. “A dream I have is that talk of God might somehow become talk in the world. There are many ways in which this can happen: ecology, social justice, community cohesion, engaging with the Stranger both of us as equals, citizenship,” he said. Inside the church, he said that learning and teaching was important in the way that they take place in Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. “It is called: the school; or today the educational and cultural centres which say: Come and see us; ask us anything and let us talk! And, by the way: Please stay to have something to eat! My dream would be that people of faith speak of God in a way that is attractive and infectious and learn and teach by means of parables,” Archbishop Jackson stated.
Finding opportunities for faith for the future
Sr Liz Murphy turned to the Roman God Yanis to highlight the importance of looking to the past as well as the future.
Looking forward she cited theologian Karl Rahner who talked about the need to find opportunities for growth and faith for the generations coming behind us. She suggested that the role of women, digital literacy, opportunities coming out of the awfulness of covid, the value of symbols and rituals could be sources of faith. She said faith could be found with artists, poets, storytellers and songwriter; with activists; in Christian mysticism; and in memories of the past.
‘We are not masters of the world’
The Revd Dr Sahr Yambasu explained that where he grew up people are born into a society of faith, nurtured in that faith and grow up in faith. One of the values learned was that everything was interrelated and everyone was important. In the west, he discovered, many people wanted to define him by his activities, by the speed in which he did them and the things he acquired in doing them. “I catch myself and say ‘your value does not exist in your achievements or your speed or in comparing yourself with others. That was impressed more and more in Covid times. Suddenly it occurred to me that it had to take an invisible virus to reflect and know that we are not masters of the world and not in control of this world… As I go into the future I go reminding myself that I or no one else is a master of the universe, only God. Our value is not decided by the sum total of our activities or achievements. My personal dream is that we would know this fact and live it accordingly,” he stated.
‘A waking nightmare looming’
Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh shared his vision for the future which he termed a “waking nightmare looming ever larger before us all”. He said that due to humanity’s wanton abuse of the planet, our world faces catastrophe of a kind that will make our perceived powerlessness in the pandemic seem like nothing at all. Citing the devastating impacts of rising sea levels and temperatures, he predicted that millions would migrate to Europe resulting in terrible conflict.
“The Abrahamic Faiths have a lot to answer for in this regard, gifting believers with the idea that the planet and all that is in it was put there for human benefit. We are all guilty of crimes against the planet and it is high time we acted concertedly to try and make amends,” he stated. “Nothing less than a global alliance of the faiths, working with the faithful to mitigate as far as is possible the most egregious of our past actions is acceptable. Failure to do this will result in disaster for billions of people, and the structures of faith will be collateral damage, and deservedly so.”
‘The Lord is rousing our spirits’
Bringing the presentations to a close, the Revd Lorraine Kennedy–Ritchie said she grew up in a part of the world that will only get access to the vaccine in three years’ time. But she said that the Lord was using the pandemic to call us back to being present in our circumstances. “The Lord is rousing our spirit and calling us back as his people of faith. We need the institutional framework. There needs to be governance. But he is calling us, rousing our spirits to flourish where we are planted in the midst of the pandemic,” she commented. “I am experiencing this pandemic with members of my family in West Africa, South Africa and Ireland. The pandemic is challenging us in how we respond as citizens, human beings and members of communities. The Church has suddenly taken on a meaning that was not present before.”