Moderator welcomes attendees to interfaith conference

Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr welcomed 75 attendees to an interfaith conference at Queens Park Parish Church in Glasgow on Thursday morning.

Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr
Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr

'Honest Conversations' is bringing together a line-up of influential scholars and theologians to lead a discussion on interfaith relations and the meaning of mission.

Speakers include: Dr Ed Kessler, an expert in Jewish-Christian relations; Dr Alison Jack, an expert on interpreting the Bible; Rev Dr Fran Henderson, an expert on religious ideas and thinkers and Dr Amanullah de Sondy an expert on Muslim ideas about gender.

The Moderator began the discussion with the following address:

Let me read a passage from the Bible – a short story about two men who went to pray - and then let me tell you why?

Luke 18: 9-14

Two men went to pray.

Several years ago I visited a woman who was recovering from major surgery at St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

On my way out of the hospital I paused for a few moments in the hospital chapel where I happened to meet the woman’s surgeon.

We chatted for a moment – and then the surgeon asked if I had come to pray for the woman who was my parishioner and his patient.

When I said I had he replied, so have I, and rolling out his mat towards Mecca he knelt down to pray.

So tell me, which prayer did God hear, the prayer of the Christian minister or the prayer of the Muslim surgeon?

Was either prayer more important to God?

Or is it too much to imagine all God heard was two men praying that someone be held in God’s healing presence and power?

Two men went to pray and one of the significant factors in my own spiritual journey has been the growing awareness that there are fellow travellers on the road.

Growing up in the west of Scotland if I was told someone belonged to a different religion it meant of course they were Roman Catholic.

Thankfully times have changed.

Two men went to pray – and seeing only what separated them, the Pharisee failed to recognize what he shared in common with the tax collector; that he too ought to stand in fear of divine judgment and in need of divine mercy.

And seeing only what separated him the tax collector stood at a distance afraid even to lift his eyes.

Seeing only what separates us – and from the Christian perspective one of the surprising, shocking things I learn from this parable is that God’s radical grace and love does not observe the boundaries and limitations I might like to place upon it.

And I wonder if during the course of our conference today there will be much for us all to learn if, seeing beyond what separates us, we recognize, welcome and are glad to engage with fellow travellers on the road of faith, hope and love.

Two men went to pray – and our prayers were answered for the woman made a good recovery from her life threatening surgery.

Was it the prayer of the Christian minister that was answered?

Was it the prayer of the Moslem surgeon that was answered?

Or was it simply the heart felt petition of two men asking that someone who was very ill be held in God’s healing presence and power?