Maintaining Harmonious Existence

SLIF participated in a gathering celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week in the Mayor’s Parlour at Kendal Town Hall on Tuesday 4th February. SLIF chair, Mike Humphreys, gave a talk on maintaining harmonious existence:

When he was leader of the Church to which I belong, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B Hinckley responded to some hearsay about the church as follows: “You don’t have to believe everything you hear or read. I mean to say, would you ask a Jew what a Muslim believes? No, you wouldn’t. You need to find out about a particular religion from a member of that religion. Direct from the horse’s mouth, as it were.”

Back in 2008 when South Lakes Interfaith Forum became an organization, we had to agree on a purpose. We decided that any strapline had to be short and sweet, but to the point. In the end we proposed the following: “The purpose of SLIF is to promote religious harmony and Interfaith understanding within the South Lakeland District Council area of Cumbria.” Quite a large undertaking for a relatively small group of people! But as with any group of people attempting to make a positive impact, we would say better to do something rather than nothing! So what do we do? What have we done?!

We meet around three times a year to decide on ways forward. We always make sure to celebrate the National Interfaith Week which occurs every November, encouraging every faith group to organize, or participate in, events which we put together. This last year we had a meditation group event about our planet, various films and talks, a special service at the Unitarian Chapel, open houses, and a forum in a local school where children of various age-groups put questions to faith representatives present. In spite of publicizing the week’s events, not many members of the public chose to get involved. (We have an excellent website, but I guess the motivation for people to look at it needs to be at least some interest in faith and/or religion, which as we all know seems to be on the wane.)

For this year we are considering at least one perhaps less-daunting seeming approach where we can just talk to people – for example, an invitation to an indoor picnic at the town hall. Anyway, at least so far we can say that all of our SLIF members  have got to know one another better through what we are trying to do. We are building bridges between our local faith groups; we respect the sacred wisdom of each religion. We listen respectfully in order to deepen mutual understanding and trust.

We have been fortunate to be given a monthly slot in the ‘Faith Viewpoint’ column of the Westmorland Gazette. We felt this was important because previously it had been dominated by local churches and so it was not reflecting all the beliefs in the community.

We have taken part in the past two years’ Unity Festivals, and are planning to do so again this coming June. We feel that is important for us to have a presence there, both as individual faiths and also as SLIF itself.

A couple of years ago some of us were involved in the production of a booklet, ‘Spiritual Links’ which was done in conjunction with South Lakeland Mind. We learned so much about mental health and how our various faiths might contribute to the healing of individuals; and conversely, how any members of faiths might learn of symptoms and solutions to mental problems as provided by the experts in that field. We delivered these booklets to all the churches and faith meeting-places in our area.

There is an oft-quoted phrase we probably all know – “standing in another man’s shoes”. Is it possible to always do that? We can certainly learn to try.

A Native American Confederacy statement reads as follows:- “We direct to your minds that peace is not really the absence of war, but the constant effort to maintain harmonious existence between all peoples, from individual to individual. We point out to you that a spiritual consciousness is the path to the survival of mankind.”

It is a high hope, but we believe a great one, to strive for knowledge and understanding, together with humility and empathy, which will then help us better nourish trust and love between all of our many different, priceless, unique selves.

~ Mike Humphreys