Presbyterian News Service
by Jerry L. Van Marter
LOUISVILLE – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders have given their backing to World Interfaith Harmony Week, an effort established by the United Nations General Assembly to promote greater interfaith understanding and cooperation throughout the world.
The U.N. set the interfaith harmony observance for the first week in February.
In a letter issued today to all PC(USA) congregations and members, General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine remind the church that as far back as 1997 the PC(USA) Assembly stated: “In a world of many bitter divisions to which, sadly, religious differences often contribute, there is an urgent call to all people of faith to seek understanding and cooperation. In response to this vocation, Christians should be eager to seek fellowship with people of other religions, work together with them, and celebrate our common concerns and values, all the while being alert to the great sensitivity this practice requires.”
Parsons and Valentine acknowledged that not all congregations can participate on such short notice and urged churches to set aside a week sometime in the near future to mark the observance.
“Sharing this information [about the observance] can be educational, while affirming and encouraging those who are aware of the week and have planned for it,” said the Rev. Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Witness at the U.N. office in New York. “And it can also help lay groundwork for engagement in interfaith efforts later this spring or next year.”
World Interfaith Harmony Week was established by the U.N. in response to a call from King Abdullah II of Jordan, arguably the Middle East country with the best record of interfaith understanding, tolerance and cooperation.
The complete text of the letter from Parsons and Valentine, dated Jan. 25:
Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ.
We invite you to observe World Interfaith Harmony Week during the first week in February. In response to a call by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing this week as a time when people of different faiths can engage in fellowship, work together, share common concerns, and celebrate common values. The week also seeks to promote the common basis of “Love of God and Love of the Neighbor, or Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbor” among religions as a means to safeguard world peace.
The Book of Order affirms that “the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will seek new opportunities for conversation and understanding with non-Christian religious bodies in order that interests and concerns may be shared and common action undertaken where compatible means and aims exist” (G-15.0104). General Assemblies provide practical and theological guidance for such efforts. The 209th General Assembly (1997) states that “In a world of many bitter divisions to which, sadly, religious differences often contribute, there is an urgent call to all people of faith to seek understanding and cooperation. In response to this vocation, Christians should be eager to seek fellowship with people of other religions, work together with them, and celebrate our common concerns and values, all the while being alert to the great sensitivity this practice requires.”
The 211th General Assembly (1999) affirms that, “In the spirit of Jesus Christ, we are called to maintain a respectful presence with people of other faiths.” The 209th General Assembly (1997) defines respectful presence as “a way to follow Jesus of Nazareth, who met with people of many cultures and religions even as he fulfilled the nature and purpose of his God-given mission.” World Interfaith Harmony Week provides an opportunity to practice such respectful presence.
Different communities may observe the week in ways that are appropriate to their situation and relationships. This could include interfaith dialogues, shared meals, joint service projects or praying for peace in the Middle East and around the world.
A number of resources are available to help plan for this week. The statement, “Respectful Presence: an Understanding of Interfaith Prayer and Celebration from a Reformed Christian Perspective” is available online. The Interfaith Toolkit provides additional ideas and resources from the Interfaith Relations website. Find prayers for people of other faiths in the Book of Common Worship (pages 798 and 815). “Guidelines for Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving” in the Book of Occasional Services may also prove helpful. Background about World Interfaith Harmony week is available at their website. Share stories of how you observe the week by sending an email to Charles Wiley.
As we join people around the world in observing World Interfaith Harmony Week, we resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust especially among peoples of different faiths. We affirm that humanity is bound together. We work for peace. And we witness to our faith in Jesus Christ who calls us to love God and love our neighbors.