By Rev. Neil Smith
I grew up in a rural conservative Methodist family and my earliest memories of my Christian belief was that if I was a good boy Jesus would look after me. As a teenager and young adult I began to question whether life is really that simple, particularly as a result of illness. I also was acutely aware that I was Christian because of the environment in which I was raised and that if I lived in another country I would probably identify with the faiths of that country.
In 2008 I went on a multifaith study tour to India. There I met people of many faiths, some of whom have become friends for life. I came home feeling very proud of what I saw Christians doing amongst struggling communities in India but also impressed with what I saw other people of other faiths doing. I had begun to struggle with my previously held belief that these people were “going to hell” and that I needed to convert them to my faith. At the same time I was feeling more comfortable with my Christian faith than I ever had been before, partly because I recognised that there were things I could learn from other faiths that would enrich my Christian faith.
I watched Muslim people pause at regular times during the day to pray and I was reminded that in the Christian tradition that has been an important practice for some and so I started exploring how that might enrich my practice of my faith.
When I was facing a difficult decision regarding my future, a Sikh friend sent me a message “we are saying prayers for you today at the Gurdwara”. I began to ponder whether I valued the prayers of my Sikh friends as much as I valued Christian prayers and I realised that I do value them as people of deep faith.
I was bushwalking with a Muslim Imam and we got to the top of a mountain and as we looked at the view he said, “Isn’t Allah great?” I suddenly realised that although I hesitated over the use of that name, the meaning was the same as me saying “isn’t God great?” While we differ on many points of application we could stand together and enjoy the wonder of the Creator and the Creation and feel a close bond of faith shared.
The Christian faith remains precious to me, but I can be in the Mosque or the Gurdwara or the Hindu temple and pray in the way that is comfortable for me and feel a close bond with others praying in ways that will probably always feel unfamiliar but the shared friendships and faith journeys have enriched my life and will continue to do so.
Rev. Neil Smith is supply minister at Hamilton-Broadmeadow Uniting Church. The congregation has close ties with the local Muslim community and on 7 July will share in an Iftar meal with members of the Newcaslte Muslim Association and representatives of the Newcastle Mosque.