Sunday, 14 September 2008

An evening at Bern's house of religions

On the final evening of the Promised Land Conference in Bern participants went from a session discussing the final message of the conference to an early supper and chance to look around Bern's House of religions in the reclaimed factory building where the project is currently based. The house of religions association has existed since 2002 in Bern and is unique in Switzerland. They will have to move out of the factory where they are at the moment at the end of 2009 as the building is set to be demolished. However, an ambitious project is underway to build a house of religions which would house separate places of worship within its walls for each of the religions participating in the project. After nearly a decade of moving around it will be quite a new departure for the project to have a building of its own if they manage to raise the money.
Meanwhile what was really wonderful about where they are now is how "real" it all felt - there are exhibtions (the calligraphy above), a series of wonderful photos, architectural displays of the new house, and space for both a Hindu temple and an Islamic prayer room which are housed in the current building. One of the local Muslim communities arrived to break their Ramadan fast as we were leaving last night.
Switzerland has a referendum on the cards next year asking for no new minarets to be built in the country so the issue of religious understanding is high on thepolitical agenda at the moment.
At the end of her speech welcoming us last night the president of the association said that running the association was not always easy, with its fair share of conflict as well as harmony but she hoped that, although many of those involved in trying to promote interreligious understanding often feel as if they are in exile, the project was part of setting up signs to the place we want to be.