"The Parliament of the World's Religions is coming to Australia! It will be held in Melbourne 3-9 December under the theme 'Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth'."
I did a double-take, then read that paragraph again. Then I pinched myself, metaphorically. I wasn't reading that on some pink-hued New Agey website - full of ads for Theosophy and crystals - but the staid print magazine of one of Australia's more conservative, mainline churches. I started the article all over again.
The writer had embraced the event wholeheartedly.
"I came away from the training day for presenters and the first official pre-Parliament event really appreciating the engagement with persons who follow different faiths but are linked by the common value of compassion."
Excuse me, I thought I knew this church. There are people of "old school" persuasion therein who aren't convinced they should pray alongside Methodists. You stay away for a fleeting decade or two and, lo and behold, a generation rises up that knows not Moses.
Using my finely tuned BS detector, honed on back issues of another denomination's (using that term loosely) magazines and news releases, I went back in with a cynical eye. The September issue of the aforesaid magazine is clearly intended to soften up anticipated resistance from the old confessional warriors. I can't wait to read the letters to the editor in October! "How far have we departed (cough, hack) from our pure gospel witness!"
I have some sympathy with these aging fossils and their younger fundagelical kin. Let's be clear, Methodists are indisputably strange (though not as strange, of course, as Presbyterians.) But the Parliament is more than pretending to be civil to heretics like these benighted pseudo-Protestants : dear lord, the Dalai Lama will be there!
But yes, my heart is indeed strangely (to overuse the term) warmed by this unexpected openness. I recollect a sermon that raised my blood pressure not all that many years ago when the imported Aussie pastor berated the Kiwi pew-warmers for not feeling righteously indignant when they passed the Lower Hutt Christian Science Reading Room. Verily, if one was wearing sandals one should feel impelled to shake the very dust off! (I wonder what Lionel will make of this article?) And now, here we are, finding it possible to participate in a Parliament of World Religions?
It gives my cynicism a welcome kick in the teeth. I just hope the editor is braced for the Barossa backlash...