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Priests and Rabbis work together on “the common good”

Posted on: November 15, 2016 11:48 AM
The Bishop of Birmingham, David Urquhart, talks with Jewish leaders at the launch of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s and UK Chief Rabbi’s In Good Faith joint social action initiative.
Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Priests and Rabbis serving similar local areas in England are being encouraged to explore mutual concerns and opportunities for shared action. The initiative, In Good Faith, was launched yesterday at Lambeth Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who both delivered significant speeches. The joint social action initiative is “Modelled on [the Archbishop’s and Chief Rabbi’s] own well rooted friendship,” a Lambeth Palace spokesperson said.

At a day-conference in Lambeth Palace yesterday, mixed groups of rabbis and priests considered together the challenge of creating and sustaining thriving faith communities, combating religious extremism, the Holy Land and its implications for inter-religious relations, and opportunities to contribute to the common good together.

The conference was planned as a “catalyst for positive dialogue”, creating relationships between pairs of priests and rabbis who will continue the conversations on a smaller scale in the coming weeks and months.

“The most important part of today is tomorrow,” Chief Rabbi Mirvis told the participants. “It is what will result as a consequence of our collaboration. Therefore, I give this challenge to you: don’t just reflect in the future on what a lovely day this was in Lambeth Palace. The strength . . . of what we are doing . . . is to encourage us all to work together . . . to guarantee that the outstanding relationships that we have at leadership level will trickle down to the grassroots within our communities, so that indeed as faith leaders, we will make a change in this challenging world of ours.”

One Family

The Chief Rabbi spoke about the beginning of the book of Genesis and why God first created one man, Adam, rather than one couple, family, community or nation. “God created only one person in order that for all time, every human being should know that we are part of the same family,” he said. “We come from the same parent. Even if it had been the first couple on earth, then as is the case in some families, some will say that ‘I’m from him’ and others will say ‘well I’m from her’! God wanted to prevent a ‘them’ and ‘us’ scenario for society and that is why the world started with one single person.”

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UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis addresses rabbis and priests at the launch of In Good Faith.
Photo: Lambeth Palace

And he used an analogy of an orchestra to explain the need for faith communities to work together: “in an orchestra you have different instruments each playing its own unique sound, but under the baton of the conductor, they produce perfect harmony.

“So too, within our society, our goal should be to respect differences, to learn about others, where they are coming from and what they are about and to provide the space and the opportunity for them to express themselves in their own way, to flourish and to blossom.

“And under the baton of human cooperation, our aim should be to produce peace, unity and harmony and that indeed is our goal today and on all days.”

The Chief Rabbi spoke about the place of religion in an “increasingly secular” society with “more and more atheism [and] with attempts to remove faith from the public square.”

He said: “We are living at a time when there is increased tension, and indeed the run-up to the election for American President has brought out such negativity, has unnecessarily and irresponsibly caused divisions within societies. There is so much healing that now needs to be done and tragically, we are living at a time when – and this must be said – sometimes religion is causing murder. Sometimes religion causes terrorism. Sometimes, in the name of God, some of the greatest atrocities on earth are perpetrated. . .
“What is going wrong within our faiths? What can we do and what should we do to mend a fractured society which comes about through the abuse of faith?

“So today we come together as members of family and within a family friendly context. We share a belief that every human being is created in the image of God and we are all part of the same destiny under the Fatherhood of God. Through our dialogue, through our communication, we will strive to achieve understanding and peace and where we differ, at least we will respect each other for the differences that we hold. Also, we will work together to find ways in which we can enable religion to be fashionable, to be acceptable in our time as indeed it can and should be.”

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Archbishop Justin Welby addresses rabbis and priests at the launch of In Good Faith.
Photo: Lambeth Palace

In his speech, Archbishop Welby said that all times were “insecure”, adding: “One of the great foundations that we have to contribute to our society is to say there’s no such as a secure time, but there is such thing as a faithful God – and that’s very important.

“But we are [at] a time of particular uncertainty at the moment, and it’s for that reason that the launch of the In Good Faith initiative is both exciting and challenging. It’s exciting because we are embarking on a voyage of discovery together. It’s challenging because if we are to model relationships of trust and integrity beyond our synagogues and churches to a society that is manifestly struggling to cope with difference more and more, then we will need to move beyond superficial encounter and ceremonial embrace, to authentic and transformative exchange.”


He stressed that he was not saying that relations between Christians and Jews in the past had only been “superficial and ceremonial”, but he said: “it is ever more important that the faith groups – and particularly because of the history that we share, of much tragedy and many appalling and terrible things from within the Christian community – it is really important that we are able to demonstrate an ability to deal with difference and seek the flourishing of the country in which we live.”

He acknowledged the Church of England’s own history of intolerance and deep-seated anti-Semitism” as well as what he called “points of light” in the history.

“As leader of the Church of England, I am very aware of this history and I am more than ready to be answerable and held to account for both unwitting implicit anti-Semitism, and the wilful and cavalier use of language, historical analogy or political example, by members of the clergy or laity.

“It happens. We know it happens. It is excruciatingly painful to us when we see it and hear it and recognise it, and we try and deal with it sharply and severely.”

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