Meeting faith to faith

interfaith conference

Susan Stork-Finlay, Anika Jensen, April Robinson, Larry Marshall, Andy Calder. Photo by Semisi Kailahi.

SEMISI KAILAHI

Victoria’s vibrant multifaith community was on show at the annual Victorian Interfaith Networks Conference (VINC), held at the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre in November.

Approximately 300 people attended the conference, organised by Faith Communities of Victoria along with the Darebin Interfaith Council and the City of Darebin. A number of religious and government bodies, including the VicTas synod, supported the initiative.

More than 135 different religions are practiced in Victoria. While the Uniting Church has experienced a decline in attendances in the past decade, religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism have experienced significant growth during that time.

The conference, which began in 2011, aims to provide networking opportunities and strengthen the relationships between these different communities.

“It’s a brilliant opportunity for those of us who work in interfaith and come from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds to meet each other in a relaxed group situation and network easily,” Larry Marshall, Uniting Through Faiths project manager, said.

The keynote speech, delivered by Spiritual Care Australia executive officer Rev Matt Glover, focused on faith and social inclusion.

This was followed by four workshops on compassion and justice, multiculturalism, sexuality and gender and bystander responses to racism. They featured a panel of speakers from Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Baha’i and Jewish backgrounds.

Outside the auditorium, attendees learnt more about the beliefs, practices and culture of different faiths at various stalls.

Attendees were able to try on a Sikh turban while Buddhist representatives showed off their prayer beads and bells.

Disability inclusion officer Rev Andy Calder ran a stall which encouraged faith communities to be proactive in welcoming people with disabilities, families and carers.

Uniting Through Faiths’ interfaith network developer April Robinson said it was exciting to see a diversity of religions at the conference.

“Often it’s the Abrahamic faiths that are amplified ahead of the Indigenous and atheist voices,” she said.

Ms Robinson is organising a series of workshops in August next year with the Darebin Council and Casey Interfaith Network as part of the Resilient Women against Bigotry and Racial Violence project. The workshops began two years ago and up to 80-100 people attend.

“The workshops are a space where women who have faced racially motivated violence in the public sphere are able to share their stories, while also allowing service providers and those working in the community to become aware of the racism and xenophobia that exists,” Ms Robinson said.

“These are stories that often don’t make it into the mainstream news. But they are stories which, for many people, are all too familiar.”

The workshops will include bystander training to equip participants with the skills and confidence to deal with everyday racism.

Ms Robinson is part of the organising committee for the I’ll Dine With You project, which returns in 2017. The dinner is an initiative of the Interfaith Centre of Melbourne, which coordinates the project with a number of religious organisations including the Uniting Church.

In February this year, 200 guests representing 27 different faiths sat along an 80-metre open-air table and exchanged conversations over food. The event was a celebration of Melbourne’s multiculturalism.

I’ll Dine With You will return on 4 February 2017 and will take place in Coburg. More details will be released closer to the event date.

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