Tuesday, 11 November 2008

interfaith activities in nz

i've got back from the school prizegiving late tonight, so not in the mood for writing much. funny how these functions remind me of my own final prizegiving, so many years ago. it probably helps that some of my old teachers have been teaching my daughter - pretty wierd actually. my old economics teacher taught her, as did my old history teacher. her principal used to be my form teacher, and the music teacher is still there. the deputy principal who started when i was in 4th form has only just retired this year.

but it was nice to see these young people full of hope, and a big future to look forward to. some of the kids had amazing achievements covering sports, music and academic fields. i figured out that they just don't bother sleeping, cos i just don't know how they find the time.

anyway, since it's too late to come up with anything very serious, i've cut and pasted an email i just sent in response to a request from a friend to list some interfaith initiatives in the country. so here they are:

1. the hamilton city council was refusing to provide specified cemetary space for a particular religious group (who wish to remain unidentified) who require their space to be blessed before a burial can take place. the waikato interfaith council wrote to the council on this issue. the council decide to do a full review of the cemetaries bylaw (which included full public consultation). the council made a submission, as well as each individual organisation making a submission. members met and had discussions with individual reigious groups, then there was a full group discussion which was well attended by council members. the combined efforts resulted in a change of position by the council, and a separate space has now been set aside. it was a wonderful example of the various faith communities working together to support a minority community. in particular, the support of some of the major christian denominations really helped the marginalised minority, which shows the importance of the majority group supporting rights for minorities.

2. the waikato museum had a "keeping faith" exhibition, which tied in with the human rights national statement on religious diversity. the exhibition selected families from different faith communities, and focused on how that family practised their faith, and the significance of faith in their lives. by having this focus on the individual and his/her family, the museum did not have to provide a definitive definition of, for example, catholicism or islam or any other. rather, they could focus on the religious practice as it was followed by that particular family. this saved a lot of arguments on tenets of faith which can differ between sects, and it also meant that the exhibition was more accessible, in that people were able to relate to individuals. the exhibition included interactive elements (eg matching the face to the religion) as well as displaying holy books and other items of significance. the museum also ran a series of seminars on religious diversity, to tie in with the exhibition.

3. the national statement of religious diversity is actually a wonderful achievement. the process of developing the statement involved representatives from at least 9 major faiths to develop the wording. the whole project was led by the race relations commissioner, joris de bres. once the statement had been drafted, it was widely circulated for public consultation. 42 group submissions and 56 individual submissions were received, which were collated and used to modify the draft statement. the revised draft was discussed at the fourth national interfaith forum in hamilton. the final stage of the process has been for various communities to ratify or adopt the statement. a very large number of organisations have done so, to date. i don't know how many or who - this information can be gained from the human rights commission. the main advantage of the statement has been to start a discussion on what religious diversity means, and how we can live alongside each other in a peaceful and respectful manner. i believe it has had a very positive impact.

4. the auckland interfaith council last year ran a very succesful "life series" set of presentations. they had (i think) four stages of life: birth, rites of passage, marriage and death. for each of these stages, representatives of major faith groups would talk about what their religion had to say on these subjects, and what particular rites and rituals were followed. it was a highly successful and informative series.

5. on an international scale, nz has been involved with regional interfaith dialogue, with our neighbouring countries. this lead to representatives attending meetings in yogyakarta, cebu and waitangi. we have also been involved in the alliance of civilisations initiative, which is run by the united nations. so we have been actively trying to engage with our neighbours to ensure positive relationships between faith communities. hopefully you can find more on these initiatives on the internet as well.

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