Leigh Memorial Church, Parramatta Mission brought together people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the peaceful world God envisions for us all.
Faith and cultural leaders as well as members of the wider community gathered for the third annual Christmas Peace Dinner on December 2.
Special guests included our Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford, the Catholic Bishop of Parramatta, the Most Rev. Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv., and the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed. Politicians such as Honourable Dr Geoff Lee State member of Parramatta and Honourable Julia Finn State member for Granville, also attended.
The Minister of Parramatta Mission, Rev. Dr Manas Ghosh, said in his opening address that this event was to celebrate the work of Jesus Christ and also the real possibility of peace, goodwill and unity.
“Dear friends in God’s eye there is no ‘other’. We all are children of the same God.
“We have different traditions, skin colour, languages and social backgrounds…none of this makes us enemies instead it creates a wonderful, colourful tapestry of our communities and the world,” said Rev. Dr Ghosh.
Rev. Dr Ghosh also spoke of his Indian heritage and recited a timely Indian saying:
“Your religion can be your religion but when it comes to the celebration of your religious festivals it is everyone’s.”
The theme of inviting people to the table and extending that hospitality to strangers and people with diverse views and backgrounds is at the core of the story of Jesus’ birth in the manger.
After Rev. Dr Ghosh’s address the special guests helped light the peace candle to remember the innocent lives lost due to violence and terror and also as a commitment to work together for peace and unity.
Throughout the dinner, not only was food shared but the significance of broadening interfaith and ecumenical dialogue was again realised.
In his reflection speech, Rev. Simon Hansford, reminded us that for true peace there is still action needed.
“When we talk about peace, it’s about not just simply praying for peace but acting for peace.
“Not simply saying how important peace is but living out our story in the world around us and in our communities, in our families and by doing something like this [gestures to crowd],” said Rev. Hansford.
All the speakers on the night agreed that as people of faith, we need to adapt our traditions and how we share our faith stories in the changing world.
The keynote speaker, Most Rev. Vincent Long said that Christmas is an important time to remember that as disciples of Jesus Christ, “we are ambassadors of God’s reconciliation.”
“I believe we need to build bridges in our community. Brides of understanding, inclusion and solidarity instead of the walls of prejudice, division and exclusion.
“[The scriptures] challenge us to let go of our narrow human thinking and adopt the generous inclusive and unbounded way of God,” said Most Rev. Long.
This includes continuing to advocate for the plight of minorities, whether they be refugees, people seeking asylum, the Rohingya people and the people of Palestine, as the Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrahim reminded us in his reflection.
“Our duty is to uphold the love and safety that this land has provided for us and ensure our people continue to spread this love amongst their own communities,” said Dr Ibrahim.
“The dignity of humans is more valuable and more important than politics, political agendas and popular opinion.
“I ask God to grant all peoples of earth peace and to protect Australia from all evil and harm and to cleanse our society from all forms of hatred, intolerance and division.”
Finally Rev. Hansford shared a story about his Tamworth congregation, where he served as Minister, on how they had to be more creative when lighting the candle of advent. This is because keeping the candles lit was risky during the bush fire season in Tamworth. So they decided to change the tradition to instead pour water into the bowl each week until it was overflowing.
“[It was] to remind us of the refreshment and the renewal of the country side and the presence of God in the world and of our faith,” said Rev. Hansford.
Rev. Hansford explained how this story echoed the sentiments of the night’s speakers, that holding onto tradition and locking doors won’t work for our faith communities.
“We need to find a new and creative way of lighting candles for advent –of discovering who we are in the world around us, of being people of faith and bearing witness to our faith,” said Rev. Hansford.
The event left attendees with bellies full of Christmas pudding, custard and Baklava, with the sounds of Christmas carols and chatter of new friends. A simple but profound notion, the Christmas Peace dinner is an event that other congregations can join or host in their own communities.
“I am confident that working together we would be able to creating goodwill among all people and make peace a reality in the community and in the world,” said Rev. Dr Ghosh of this interfaith event and of the events to come.