On Tuesday 17 September, the Boroondara Interfaith Network in partnership with the Burwood and District Inter Church Council celebrated UN International Day of Peace with over 100 community members at Church of Christ Hartwell. The event took the form of a peace forum, including a shared supper bringing together people of all faith backgrounds and members of Boroondara’s local police force to discuss peace in today’s society.
After an opening multifaith chant performed by Jamel Kaur, a member of the Sikh community, attendees were greeted by the Ray Delaney, Chairperson of the Burwood and District Inter Church Council and Merryl Blair, Minister at Hartwell and MC for the night. The forum’s panel of speakers included representatives from the Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Islamic faiths who shared their views and insight into how their faith strengthens their commitment to social harmony.
Superintendent Neville Taylor, a member of the local Christian community, spoke of his experience as part of the police force and his memories of his first day as a cadet and as a peace-keeper. In addition to his role as a law enforcer, he explained the ways in which his faith community had taught him how to find strength and support others in the wider community during times of tragedy.
Anand Shome, a representative of the Hindu faith spoke about the freedom of interpretation inherent to Hinduism. He explained that Hindus believe that God is within us all and therefore peace is something that we must all strive to achieve through our own actions without there being one sole path to harmony.
Joel Lazar, a representative of the Jewish faith spoke about the meaning of Shabbat or Sabbath – a time of rest and reflection for Jewish people at the end of each week. He explained that through Jewish teachings he is constantly able to look inwards about how he creates peace with his fellow community members and loved ones. Joel quoted Abraham Heschel, a great Jewish theologian: ‘When I marched [against racial segregation, with Dr Martin Luther King Jr], my legs were praying’. A true ode to the notion that social justice is praying with one’s feet.
Sherene Hassan represented the Muslim community and recounted her experience over the years as a community leader. She told of the abuse and negativity that she had received as a result of global events and how she endeavoured to promote peace by facing her critics and taking the time to inform people about the true teachings of her faith.
Together, the speakers told stories of places where they have found hospitality to their ideas, often unexpectedly. A general theme was how they have been drawn into living for peace, making a difference wherever they find themselves: from local police settings, to international peace initiatives; from inter-faith dialogue, to working through the legal channels; in their country of origin, to the often difficult transition to being immigrants in Australia.
The end of the presentations then led onto a Q&A session with the audience members. One question asked among the panellists was whether or not they had an idea of ‘hell’; the answers ranged from a fairly literal interpretation, to a sense of the pain people cause for other people. Another question was about their view of ‘hope’; one answer was that hope lies in our work towards peace and goodwill.
After a most insightful and open dialogue between our speakers and members of the community, the evening’s proceedings were brought to a close over coffee and cake prepared by the catering team at Cultural Education. Attendees were joined by the panel of speakers with many conversations and discussions continuing long into the night.