Recent events overseas have increased concern for security in Western countries and sparked incidents which have raised understandable community anxiety. As Christians concerned for the welfare of all our neighbours we consequently therefore continue to pray for all those who are most directly affected by violence or its threat. We remember particularly the peoples of the Middle East at this time, especially those who are persecuted, forced into flight as refugees, injured, killed, or bereaved. We pray for all those in positions of authority and influence who make difficult decisions about violence and security, remembering especially our Prime Minister and Federal Government, military, security and police personnel. May compassion be combined with wisdom, determined courage with insight. As national security levels are raised, let us however also raise our peace and understanding levels. For in the case of Anglicans at least, the current situation certainly calls us back to the 4th Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion:
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation....
The second half of that commitment (the words after the comma) was added, by the Anglican Consultative Council, in 2012, following widespread concern across the Anglican Communion that peace, conflict transformation and reconciliation be given much higher prominence and intentional prayer and action. This aspect of mission begins right where we are, in the daily activities and relationships we share and choose to make with others. In our Australian context at this time this particularly involves loving our Muslim neighbours and helping to lessen unnecessary levels of fear and anxiety in the wider community.
As we approach his feast day this weekend, a powerful prayerful practical model for us is St Francis of Assisi. Whilst, in recent times, Francis has become an understandable focus for ecological prayer and action, his example is far broader and deeper, not least in his prophetic contribution to Christian peacemaking and reconciliation. As a saint for our time, his conversation with the Sultan Malek al-Kamil is perhaps especially significant. For, in 1219, near Damietta in Egypt, during a lull in the bloody fighting of the Fifth Crusade, Francis somehow made his way through the battlelines to the Sultan’s tent. Whilst the exact details of the encounter between the two men are unknown, it is an inspiration to us. The openness to holy companionship on both sides, and the two men’s subsequent hints of profound connection, call us too to cross the battlelines of our own mistrust, division and anxiety. Following the example of Francis, walking in the steps of Jesus, can we build better relationships with our neighbours who are different to us in faith?
As we approach St Francis Day, may we look to ways in which we can become better friends of God with our Muslim brothers and sisters and spread the peace-creating spirit of St Francis among all in our wider community. Happily we do not live in a country where we have to cross actual battlelines to do so. Many in our Australian Islamic communities are open to, and indeed active in, building better positive relationships and shared commitments to peace, here and overseas. Many are also anxious and fearful at this time and are praying for renewed affirmations of our nation’s multicultural strength and understanding. Together we can lessen undue fear and anxiety among others and reduce the possibilities of any further criminal or abusive acts.
There are many possibilities for prayer and action in the spirit of St Francis. Where our Anglican parishes, schools and other agencies are geographically close to Muslim communities, direct contacts may be developed. Elsewhere it still possible to correspond with Muslims from a distance and, importantly, to reflect prayerfully and share Christian attitudes to peace and reconciliation with others. Ideas and suggestions already being taken up by some in our diocese include:
* Praying for Christian-Muslim relationships here and overseas
* Writing a goodwill letter or card to a local mosque or other Muslim group
* Sharing with others Australian Muslim condemnations of the so-called Islamic State
– such as that made by the Australian National Imams Council:
“Since the ISIS group was established we have been very clear about denouncing their lies and betrayal of
our faith. These criminals are committing crimes against humanity and sins against God. Forced eviction,
threats of execution and burning of places of worship including churches have no place in any faith.”
(statement issued on 15 September 2014)
* Writing a letter to a newspaper, making a call into a radio program, using social media, or other media
intervention, to share a positive Christian spirit of reconciliation
* Visiting a mosque on one of the current ‘open days’ being arranged by several mosques in our diocese
* Inviting local Muslims, perhaps with others from other faiths or none, to a tea, picnic or other time of
fellowship and conversation
* Helping organise a forum to share common commitment to peace & harmony
* Reflecting on the example of St Francis and the Sultan and positive Christian-Muslim relationships in many
* Drawing on the expertise of bodies such as the Queensland Forum for Christians, Jews & Muslims;
the Multi-faith Multi-Cultural Centre in Toowoomba; the Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue at Griffith
University; University Multi-faith Chaplaincies; Queensland Churches Together; and our own diocesan
May the Peace of Christ be with us all.
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Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.