- Angela Abmeier, ARK Deutschland – Discussion host
- Thibault Lion, CASA – Secretary
- François Van Der Meide, ARK Nederlands
- Benjamin Dupays, ARK France
- Sarah Morton, ARK UK
- Claudia Abmeier, ARK Deutschland
- Gonzalo Maestre, Narthex
NB: Before all discussions, we agreed to extend the initial theme of Welcoming Muslims in our churches to Welcoming non-Christians in our churches, as we thought the issue to be wider than just the relationship to Islam.
The discussion started with the official position of all the organisation represented around the table.
– CASA is officially a secular organisation. However, it was founded by a priest and does officially require guides to stay true to all the three dimensions of our sites: historical, artistical and spiritual. Hence, we do ask our guides to be able to speak accurately of the meaning of the site to Christians. All in all, this is easier to achieve for Christian guides and in practice a lot (but not all) of our guides are believers.
– Likewise ARK requires only knowledge and interest for the Christian faith before anything else. As a general rule, ecumenism should the main motivation rather than evangelism.
– Narthex does admit looking actively for Catholics when it comes to recruiting its guys, in an effort to convey best the religious reach of the churches.
We then proceeded to distinguish different archetypes from non-Christians visitors and the challenges which arise with each of them.
- “Open-minded” non-Christians: a vast majority of our visitors will listen respectfully to explanations around our faith, whatever their own beliefs. In fact, we should expect that attitude by default given anyone entering a church and asking for a visit is likely to be at least interested by the Christian faith. These visitors do require less apart from generally more careful explaining.
- Actively antagonistic atheists: these seek contradiction with any religious speech and will show or express their disagreement openly.
- Devout believers of other faiths: they have their own set of values from their religion hence they will struggle to accept anything that contradicts it.
The last two profiles are the ones which require specific caution to ensure pleasant visits:
- Against visitors obviously seeking conflict for the sake of it, it is important to defuse this aggressiveness right from the start and do not engage in arguments which would ruin the visit for everyone.
- However when contradiction comes from a reasonable thought process and doubt arises from your own explanations, it is important to accept and address the questions rather than dismiss them. There is actually more credibility in a guide which accepts sensible questions, even if answering involves nuancing positions.
- As a general rule, it is important for our guides to understand what aspects of the site appeals most to the visitor’s heart and mind. By finding what is important to them, you can focus your narrative to deliver a memorable visit. We felt it was especially crucial for non-Christians to find the connection (history, art, beauty, links to some aspects of their faith…) through which they can come to the meaning to the church, without being Christian. For the guide, that requires good training to be able to develop various aspects of the site and some amount of curiosity to always look for that specific connection.
- When you notice disagreement or scepticism, it is important to adapt language (without changing content) to avoid presenting what Christians hold true as absolute facts or general truths. Saying The Bible says… or Christians believe that… is obviously more accurate and might avoid strong reactions.
- Finally, it is also crucial to accept that some gaps between faiths can never be bridged. Obviously, if a Muslim and a Christian shared exactly the same opinion about life and God, there would not be two different religions. Thus, even if firm disagreement is expressed by a believer of another faith, and so long it is formulated in a friendly manner, there is no need to decide which religion is right and which is wrong.
Thanks a lot to the whole team for this excellent and interesting report!