Interfaith Forum: encountering faith

The Interfaith Forum series continued at St Joseph’s Conference Centre in Kilaben Bay. The series is an initiative of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Council.

The series of forums facilitate the coming together of different faiths in a discussion exploring our faith in action. As Teresa Brierly, the Vice Chancellor of Pastoral Ministries, explained, the purpose of the Interfaith Forum series is so we don’t think of people as “the other”.

Interfaith Forum: Our Faiths and Finding Spirituality

The topic for the most recent forum was “our faiths and finding spirituality” and the discussion was lead by Brendon Mannyx, the Parish Leader at St Joseph’s parish.

Bringing to the discussion a background in law and creative arts as well as a Master’s in Theology, Brendon got attendees thinking by asking: “How is it that we find God, that we experience God, in a way that ultimately transforms our life?”

Speaking to a gathering of people who identified themselves as Catholic, Jewish, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Uniting Church and more, Brendon began to describe an experience common to many people of different faiths.

“If we were to describe that moment of finding God, of experiencing the Other, as something Transcendent, something or someone outside of ourselves, yet interacting, engaging, relational...we find a number of expressions that have been used within the Christian faith and within all faiths.”

Brendon detailed a list of descriptive phrases many use to explain what one of the event’s attendees aptly summed up as a “light-bulb moment”. This divine encounter, and how people of different faiths experience this meeting of the Other, set the stage for group discussions in which Brendon asked those in attendance to discuss their answers to two questions:

“What’s my encounter story?”

“What’s happening in my faith community?”

A dialogue

As participants broke off into small groups to discuss and share their first person experiences of faith, there was an air of genuinity in the way each group shared and patiently listened to one another. Despite differences in ideology and faith, each person was given the opportunity to share and to participate in the conversation.

While still seated in their groups, participants were invited to share the findings their discussions unearthed.

In coming together and sharing what each group discussed, almost all groups lamented the decline in the number of young people who attend church and who find the faith. One group expressed concern over the violence young people are exposed to in movies and video games, while another group described their encounter with faith as absorbent like an ink blotter.

Many expressed the absence of a light-bulb moment in their own journey.

Instead, for some, faith was something encountered in everyday experiences. While the absence of a so-called light-bulb moment was common amongst a number of participants, many agreed there was a moment in their lives when a choice was made to become an adult in the faith, rather than a child as Alyson Segrott, who is a professional officer with the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, so elegantly put it.

Encounter Jesus

While the evening was full of enlightening conversations and a genuine connection between faiths, it can be best summed up with a quotes Brandon shared for the Parish Bulletin:

“The call to ‘encounter Jesus’ is both an invitation and a mission. We are an open, welcoming community that seeks to share the life and love of Jesus with every person we encounter.

“As a community, we strive to create those spaces where anyone can freely encounter the person of Jesus. We are further challenged to encounter Jesus in each other, in the world and in the life of the Church.”

The Interfaith Forum series will continue in September with “our faiths and God’s messages”. Please click here for more information.