When I was in seminary, I participated in an intersession course on non-Christian faiths. I selected Islam, and for two very compelling weeks I not only encountered different ways of seeing God, but the different cultures represented by the Islamic faith. We learned about the Qu’ran, Islam’s holy scripture, and about the major figures and events of Islamic history. We visited both Sunni and Shi’ite mosques, and learned a little bit about the challenges a minority faith and minority cultures face in a Canada that is still heavily Western European in its self-identity.

This introduction to the Islamic world was all too brief – and ending it was like leaving a meal after having barely tasted the appetizer. But that experience got me thinking about the many different ways in which human beings imagine and encounter God in their lives. It made me realise that the power of God is manifested in infinite ways; ways that speak to the experiences and environments of human beings across time and around the world.

It occurred to me that my brief experience of Islam was like a journey to a different place. Contrary to the fears of some, such journeys do not weaken our faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Instead, we return from them with a greater understanding of why we believe what we believe, and a greater appreciation for our heritage of faith, and of what our own cultures have contributed to the one endless journey all humanity shares.

But it is not only through exposure to other faiths that we are exposed to new and sometimes challenging ways of seeing and worshipping God. This fact was brought home to me during a summer internship I later undertook at the Anglican cathedral in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Even though I was among Anglican Christians, I was constantly amazed by how differently God was understood and experienced by the people of this small, southern Caribbean nation. It made me aware of just how much our preconceptions about the divine are moulded, even for Christians, by our environment and culture.

God is beyond culture – yet God is interpreted by people embedded in a culture. Whether we care to admit it or not, religion is a cultural artefact; an artefact that has the power to reveal aspects of God, but one that also can inadvertently obscure other ways of experiencing the Holy One. It is through encountering other faiths and different expressions of Christianity in other cultures that we can take a journey to another side of God – perhaps one we didn’t even know existed.

Just as importantly, we return from these journeys newly equipped to broaden and expand our understanding of God in new ways of study, prayer, worship, and music. This does not mean discarding the Anglican traditions of the British Isles, but rather expanding our repertoire of tradition to include expressions of faith that are more truly global, more reflective of the human family – and indeed, more reflective of this part of the world that we call home: The Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

According to Statistics Canada, of the 2.2 million people resident in our Diocese, close to half are visible minorities, mostly from South Asia and China. Most are members of non-Christian faith traditions, primarily Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim. Others are Christians in visible minority communities, who bring cultural expressions of our faith that have yet to be integrated into the mainstream of worship. One of the challenges we are invited to take is to make a journey of discovery to new faiths and different cultures: to get to know our neighbours and to let them get to know us. Taking a journey of mutual encounter and mutual learning enriches the lives and broadens the minds and spirits of all who travel.

Multifaith and multicultural dialogue is not an end in itself. Its goal is understanding, respect, and friendship. In other words, its goal is peace. Such dialogue is the challenge facing the Church in the 21st Century, and I believe it is essential to the project of global peace and understanding at a time when sectarian fundamentalism threatens to tear that dream apart. Moreover, it is a way of broadening our own experience of God and expressions of faith, deepening our appreciation of our own Christian witness, as well as the cultural lenses through which we have experienced it.

Our Bishop’s Inter-Church and Interfaith Relations Commission (ICIFRC) comprises a group of individuals committed to building and strengthening an atmosphere of mutual dialogue and learning. One of the foundations in this process is a Church Depot event we are sponsoring on February 4th, 2006 at St. Laurence, Coquitlam from 10 am to 3:30 pm.

Called Getting to Know Our Neighbours: Strategies for Multifaith and Multicultural Encounters, the purpose of the event is to expose participants to both non-Christian faiths and non-Eurocentric expressions of Christianity, to provide resources for helping parishes and individuals communicate with diverse cultures and faith traditions, and to help participants reflect on ways in which our parishes can become more welcoming and sensitive to those from other faiths and diverse cultures.

On behalf of ICIFRC, I extend a warm welcome to all of you to begin or continue your own journey. Join us on February 4th, and prepare to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Rom 12:2).