‘Faith’ by artist Russell Haines is an exhibition which portrays a number of individuals’ stories through beautiful portraits and gives a glimpse of who they are as people of faith. One of the portraits is of me and it has been a privilege to speak with Russell and share our stories. Next to my portrait are some very clear words about my identity in Jesus Christ.
The organisers of the exhibition launched it with an educational event on Saturday 14 January. The aim was to provide an opportunity for people from across the multicultural city of Gloucester to come together in their places of difference as well as similarity.
The Cathedral always aims to be a place of welcome and an agent for dialogue and the event was held in the Chapter House, which as the Dean explained in a recent radio interview, was specifically built as a place for education. It might also be helpful to know that the launch of the exhibition was not in the context of worship. The Dean and I would want to stress that the Cathedral is a distinctive place of Christian witness and worship, confident in Jesus Christ as the one through whom God is reconciling the world to himself.
I was glad to be present for part of the event on Saturday and was invited to say a few words preceded by Richard Graham MP. In my words I said:
‘When people of different faiths come together in a place of peace there can be a strong tendency to try and make everything more comfortable by focusing on all our similarities – The values we hold in common and the places where our beliefs seem to coalesce. We recognise that we live in a world where there’s so much hatred and division because people cannot live with that which is other to who they are. The pages of history and the pages of our newspapers speak of so many evil wounds and scars inflicted by human beings on other human beings – atrocities all too often done in the name of religion – but often emerging from a deep dark fear of that which is other.
So, it’s not surprising that when people of different faiths come together with a commitment to peace and the common good, we focus on our similarities. But for me, that’s not enough… …because for me, as a Christian, I’m denying who I am in Jesus Christ. I need to name difference. I want to be honest about disagreement… It would be strange wouldn’t it, if as Bishop I didn’t speak about the unique love and hope of Jesus Christ. That will provoke a range of responses in others… …this exhibition is honest about our differences and our places of disagreement.’
The exhibition is being held in the cloisters of the Cathedral until 26 February.