Many Christians wonder what interfaith work is for.
In West Wales, surely there is little need for it? However, another view is that, because there is relatively little exposure to people of other faiths in this area, there is even more need for awareness of the beliefs of other faiths in this divided world.
For many, interfaith work has one over-riding purpose: to bring peace to the planet. Peaceful communities can help build peace in the world.
There is a strong tradition of peace and tolerance in Welsh Christianity which has helped shape the nation’s consciousness. Such virtues are at the heart of all true religions and they are gifts that can be shared with society.
Religious divides are fuelled by fear and misunderstanding and rarely reflect the reality of those who live with an open-hearted faith. It is time to dwell on the positives and recognise that people who seek to live peacefully in caring and compassionate ways can be role models within our communities, whatever their spiritual tradition.
AN EVOLVING STORY
Interfaith Officer Revd Derek Davies considers the rich, multi-layered
history of faith in one street in Carmarthen
Jan Morris in The Matter of Wales uses the metaphor of a palimpsest – the re-use of parchment or vellum with the original ‘text’ being first erased and then over-written but often leaving discernible traces of its previous usage – to describe the changes which are evident in our religious history.
Nowhere, perhaps, is that metaphor more apt than in the length of the A484 known as Priory Street, Carmarthen. A quick glance at a Google map reveals its eastern junction with ‘Old Oak Lane’ reminding us of those mythic days of Merlin and just a little further to the east is to be found the undisputed site of a Roman amphitheatre. The name of the street itself, of course, tells of an historic priory.
Here, then, in a few hundred yards we have evidence of our triple heritage of ancient Celtic pre-history, of the influence of Rome and of the Christian faith – a palimpsest with fascinating detail woven within the changes which persist.
The Augustine priory ceased to exist following the 1536 Act of Suppression but it had merely followed brief use of the site by the Benedictine establishment which itself had been preceded by an ancient 6th century ‘clas’.
Despite the cataclysm however the story of Christian faith in institutional terms continued. The map reveals Anglican St Peter’s at the western end of the street together with St John’s; Penuel Baptist Church, a little to the south, marks just one of
the later divergences which were sadly to follow the formation of the Established Church of England, as it was in those days – divergences which we are belatedly beginning to view in a more generous spirit.
And so to today and the latest contribution to the metaphor of the palimpsest. Now on the map of faith we are joined by other children of Abraham – the West Wales Islamic Cultural Association has been established in Priory Street with a vision of keeping a small Muslim community integrated and an asset to the wider West Wales community.
Should we feel dismay or perhaps apprehension? By no means – our story of faith will continue to express itself alongside theirs – their website indicates that they have a vacancy for an Imam and the job description includes the requirement ‘must also promote interfaith harmony’.
This article was first published in the June 2017 edition of Pobl Dewi