The Rev. Neil Fernyhough

History was made at Temple Sholom on November 21st, when ambassadors Nabil Barto of Jordan and Alan Baker of Israel joined moderator Stephen Owen for a discussion about violence and peace in the Middle East.

The large synagogue was packed with over a thousand people representing the spectrum of religious and ethnic diversity in the Lower Mainland: Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others.

Before the programme began, I got to talking with the man seated next to me – a Jew in his twenties who, upon learning that I was an Anglican priest, enthusiastically described Bishop Michael’s address on politics and religion that he had heard the evening before at the Vancouver Opera.

The proceedings were begun with the remarkable sight and sound of an imam standing on the temple bema and chanting verses of the Qur’an proclaiming peace and unity. It reminded me for all the world of the chanting of the Torah by Jewish cantors, or the plainchant of the Psalms in our own Anglican tradition. The imam’s prayers were followed by those of Dr. Philip Bregman, rabbi of Temple Sholom and host of the event.

We were all there to hear Baker and Barto discuss the friendly relations between their two nations, manifested in such things as agreements over water use, travel, and air space. I was surprised to hear that the nation that supplies the largest number of visitors to Jordan is Israel, with thousands of people regularly crossing the border between the two countries.

We also heard about the not-so-friendly relations between Israel and its other neighbours, including the recent anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish rhetoric of Iran’s new president. Finally, the two diplomats spoke candidly about the Palestinian people and the future of the occupied territories.

What an evening! This was interfaith dialogue in action, and its role in creating peace and understanding between people of different religions, tribes, and backgrounds could not have been clearer. A Jewish man hears a speech by a Christian bishop, and is moved. An Islamic leader offers public prayer in a Jewish synagogue. Diplomats representing countries overwhelmingly Islamic and Jewish, talk about the fruits of peace.

When all we hear about is the negative and divisive role religion plays in public discourse, this was refreshing. These were things I wished could be commonplace everywhere, all the time.

With its incredible diversity of people from around the world, Canada – and especially the Lower Mainland – is poised to play an important role in the next chapter of global peacemaking and peacekeeping.

We often hear about how the increased mobility of people and the advent of instantaneous and continuous communication pose risks to peace, safety, and security. But these changes also promise hope – the hope of transforming tribalism and fear into understanding, tolerance, and respect. It begins with interfaith dialogue; with sharing our core beliefs and values – our identity – with others, and inviting them to share theirs’ with us.

I left Temple Sholom feeling newly energized. The power is in each of our hands – we need only learn how to use it. Fortunately, we have tools to accomplish this goal.

On Saturday, February 4th from 9:30 to 3:00 at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, there will be a Church Depot event called “Getting to Know Our Neighbours: Strategies for Multifaith and Multicultural Dialogue.” Details and registration forms have been mailed to parishes.

Coupled with the ongoing plans for the Interspiritual Centre on False Creek, and the coming of the World Peace Forum to Vancouver in June, this year is set to be pivotal in the growing project of dialogue. Later this year, the Inter-Church and Interfaith Commission will be producing a resource kit for those parishes, groups, and individuals that want to plan their own programmes of dialogue and co-operation with faith communities in their neighbourhoods.

Together, we can make a difference and build a world of peace, tolerance, and understanding through dialogue, and so live out our commission to be “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18-20).