Posted by: Titus Presler | September 11, 2011

Induction in Peshawar Cathedral on 9/11/11: Commitment to “a historic moment”

On this evening of 9/11/11 the Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, and the clergy and people of this diocese have invited me to join the ministry of the diocese in an induction service at St. John’s Cathedral in the heart of Peshawar.  Its effect is a license to serve in the diocese.  The time of the liturgy happens to coincide roughly with the time of the ceremonies that will commemorate the attacks of 9/11/01.

I was in Manhattan on 9/11 for a meeting about the mission vision of the Episcopal Church.  A few of us from the Standing Commission on World Mission were to meet about that at 9 a.m. with the Anglican Observer at the United Nations at the time, Taimalalange Tuatalagoa Matalavea.  She did not arrive, and when we were called out to a TV screen we saw why.

My wife Jane had left New York early that morning for Chicago for an ecumenical consultation, also about mission, and for an anxious hour or so we her family wondered whether her plane might have become one of the missiles.  It hadn’t.

That evening daughter Emma and I walked down the West Side Highway, from where we could see in the distance the smoldering fire that the World Trade Center had become.  All about us were hundreds of ambulances that had come in from New Jersey, Connecticut and the lower counties of New York State.  Drivers and EMTs were chatting outside their vehicles.  There was little call for their services.  Death, not injury, had been the major consequence for those at the site of impact.  Many in its vicinity had been shocked and dazed, but they had been able to walk away.

Many things were not clear that day, but one was: A new stage of engagement between the world of Islam and the West was underway.  For Christian churches, it was imperative that the encounter with Islam be higher on the agenda of their mission.

Ten years later I am in Peshawar along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a region regarded widely as a pivot or a crux or a crucible – whatever – of many of the dynamics occupying international attention and tension today, largely as a result of 9/11.  Pakistan has the sixth largest among national populations of the world and, after Indonesia and India, the world’s third largest Muslim population.  Given the turn toward religious extremism, this is an illuminating place to be in the development of Islam and its encounter with the West.

And I am here still in mission, again on mission.

At the conclusion of a long discussion with Muslim colleagues about the state of Pakistan last evening, one of my friends said, “You are here at a historic moment.”  I agreed.

So what is the mission here at this historic moment?  I’m still growing into understanding what it might be, but here are my hunches on this day:

– Christian presence and witness: Sheer Christian identity is a witness in an environment where there are such substantial forces seeking to eliminate diversity for the sake of religious uniformity.  Showing forth the light of Christ – that is fundamental in the mission.

– Tolerance amid excellence in education: The heritage of Edwardes College as the first institution of higher education in Khyber Pakhtunkwa offers depth to our efforts to enhance the well-known educational excellence of Edwardes as a church foundation.  “You must stress tolerance,” a Muslim from outside the college said last evening.  My own view is that tolerance is only the beginning, for we aspire to be an environment where people of diverse religions not only tolerate each other but learn from each other and grow together.  Yet the fact that an observer would stress the importance of sheer and simple tolerance highlights just how desperate Pakistanis feel the current situation is.

– Building character: “What can you do to ensure that every graduate is a good person?” asked the same observer last evening, again amid despair at the current quality of public and private life in Pakistan.  “What indeed?” we asked ourselves in the group.  In fact, we do a good deal by way of example and exhortation and establishing patterns of integrity in college life.  But we left asking ourselves what more we can do.  Required courses in personal and professional ethics?  Tutorial discussions about honesty, service and integrity?  We’re not sure, but we’re talking.  The opportunity is great: 2,800 students are in session every day, all of them at a formative period of their lives as they prepare for a wide variety of professions in the arts and sciences.

– Solidarity with Pakistan’s Christian community: Amid all the other tensions and urgencies of Pakistani society, the belittled and embattled Christian minority needs to know that the global Christian community and the outside world in general stand with them.  As a priest of the Episcopal Church, it is a joy to be assisting in this very different church in a very different place.  Being here expresses that solidarity.

And that brings me back to this evening’s service.  My major responsibility is Edwardes College, and I am here as an Anglican priest and missionary.  So I rejoice in both the inter-religious engagement and the Christian solidarity, in the educational contribution and the ministerial service through the church.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

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Responses

  1. We are praying for you, Titus.

  2. Prayers and love from the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, ACT and Magi
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/opinion/sunday/and-hate-begat-hate.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

    • Thanks so much, Magi!


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