Back Again!

The Place where We are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

Yehuda Amichai, 20th Century Israeli poet
(thanks to Jeff May for this gem)

Two events have recently overtaken me.

The first was the Religion and Violence Public Symposium on May 28, held in conjunction with the Flinders University Institute of International Education. We have been receiving comments from those who attended – I’ll report on this in a future News.

The second was the Conference of European University Chaplains held at Frauenchiemsee in southern Germany, between Munich and Saltzburg, June 6-10. The attached photo shows the venue, a Monastery, about 1,400 years old on a small island in the middle of a large lake. After the conference I travelled through Bavaria and the Rhine with the main conference organiser, Raimund Blanke, making our way to his home at the Catholic Chaplaincy, University of Cologne. I got back last Sunday.

My overall impression is that, if Germany is anything to go by, “Multifaith” as we know it at Flinders seems an impossibility there. Historically, all that seems to have been gained in Europe has come through conflict. Only since the Second World War has there been a period of peace and the European Union is very much a peace project. While Turkish immigrant families were evident there seemed to be little interest in engaging with them. Rather the attitude was that ‘they have to change to fit us’; and regret that they didn’t appreciate German heritage. They’re hanging on to what has been hard won.
The Holocaust still casts a shadow over the German psyche. Only with the advent of the World Cup, I discovered, did Germans feel free enough to now fly their flag publicly. But there is still suspicion over anything that raises national feeling. The World Cup has given permission, particularly to the younger generation, to begin to feel proud about themselves again. There’s as much riding on it as there was on Kathy Freeman winning the 800metres in Sydney. When Germany won their first game, young people in cars were driving round ‘till all hours of the morning blowing their horns!

The conference was almost exclusively Christian (read Catholic or Lutheran), though there was one Jewish representative from the US, over for the International Committee. How did she feel about being the odd one out? She told me she was “used to it”.
The conference theme was “Drinking From Our Own Wells”, focussing on spirituality. All the major papers are up at
Ricky Waters from NZ and I presented a workshop on Multifaith Chaplaincy. It was booked out almost immediately the sign-on sheet went up. We began with the proposition “you may dig your own wells but who owns the land?” Although we allocated half of the time of the workshop for discussion, it became clear that we were a novelty and people had come to listen. Some had had bad experiences with people of other faiths and given up on the idea, some had never thought about it or saw the need for it and some could not see how their Church would support it. Yet clearly there was a recognition that sooner or later religious pluralism needed to be addressed.
My impression was that the history of close church-state relations dominates European thinking. This was well illustrated in a response from the Fins to the next Global conference in 2008, in Finland, being multifaith. “Of course, they can come and join us!” (In Finland the state essentially pays for the Church). No thought that they might have to make changes to suit others!

However the whole trip was well worth it. I caught up with my son Nick in London, who is working on touch screens – I saw a bit of his handiwork at the Tate Modern Gallery – and our dear friends the Doneys; we’ve kept in contact since 1974! The post-conference trip with Raimund was amazing and included taking part in the annual Corpus Christi procession in a small Catholic town. It was great to be hosted by a native and to see and experience things outside the itinery of the average tourist! And I made some great friends at the conference.

So now to finish my proposal for a Masters in Theology at Flinders to provide a framework for writing up and reflecting on our multifaith chaplaincy… The Catholic, Methodist and Anglican Coordinators of University Chaplaincy in the UK are as keen as I am to see this work done!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: