I've been working in interfaith relations since I left
teaching Religious Education in 1995; so I'm accustomed to
the fact that no two days are alike. A typical day might include
responding to an article or event which has caused concern for one
community or another, preparing a text study for an interfaith
gathering, and, inevitably, all the usual thrills and spills
involved in running a national charity.
Everything in my life so far has prepared me for
this. That's one of the benefits of growing a little
older. Looking back, it is easy to see the way God guides and
inspires. In fact, I don't think my knowledge and experience could
equip me so well for any other job.
There are quite a few perceptions about CCJ
[the Council of Christians and Jews]. My aim is to challenge these
and ensure that the organisation is positioned to be a real tool
for dialogue between Jews and Christians in this country.
My father served in the British Army during the
Palestinian Mandate in the 1940s; so I grew up with
stories of the birth of the State of Israel. I originally studied
Islam, but having trained as an RE teacher, I was asked to develop
a specialismin Judaism. I went on to do further study in Hebrew and
Jewish studies, and have been working in interfaith relations ever
Insights into other faiths have enriched my own
Christianity immensely. I am challenged both by the
importance of faith traditions in daily life, and by glimpses of
God which come from quite different experiences.
I've become accustomed to a variety of
traditions, both within and outside the broad reach of the
Church of England, but my identity as an Anglican and my
appreciation for its unique approaches have become increasingly
important over the years. I like the "three-legged stool" of
scripture, tradition, and reason - that makes for an excellent
balance. Anglicanism's desire to hold so much in tension is a key
factor, and the ability of anyone to feel they can belong is
important. That's something I've learned from the Jewish
I think we could do even more in Christianity to help
young people to feel they belong, without their
necessarily believing everything in the creed. It's very important
to welcome people, without preconditions; to set up church-related
events that they can come to without feeling they have to be in
church as well. It's not that faith is unimportant, but it's
something that grows and is experienced. A truly deep-rooted faith
can take time. Young people shouldn't think that there is some
belief package they need to sign up to from day one in order to be
part of the fellowship. Christianity is about a relationship.
We don't make enough of the rites of passage for young
people. Confirmation is one thing, but I think we could do
more in terms of welcoming young adults into the congregation. I'd
like to see us make more of that, as other faith traditions do.
I'm privileged to be a member of the Anglican-Jewish
Commission. It's been a refreshing and uplifting
experience to learn from such inspiring people.
Archbishop Temple and Chief Rabbi Hertz, who
founded CCJ in 1942, wanted to enable Jews and Christians to meet
as human beings. When you recognise the likeness of God in the face
of the other, it is more difficult to succumb to the doctrines of
A willingness to enter into real dialogue is not a soft
option. It can be difficult, since we can be challenged to
re-evaluate some of our thinkings. But it can be inspiring, too,
leading to a much greater understanding of our own faith and
We can learn a great deal from Genesis 32 and
33. This is where Israel comes into being, as Jacob is
renamed for his encounter with "the man who wrestled with him" at
the Jabbok ford. The strange and compelling narrative is in the
context of Jacob's fear of the coming reunion with his brother,
Esau. Wrestling and reconciliation - these elements for me are at
the core of Jewish-Christian relations.
I believe relations between Jews and Christians are at
their lowest point since 1945. But hope is to be found in
the fact that we both understand the nature of a covenantal
relationship with God, and that so many are still committed to the
engagement with each other.
The biggest problem is the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict. On an individual level, our relationships can be
very good; but, on the institutional level, relations are not good
at all. There's been quite a lot of hurt and mistrust. Articles in
the Jewish press have sometimes been quite difficult, and, for many
in the Jewish community, Christian approaches to Israel are
regarded with some apprehension. This may be because of what they
read in the Jewish press, or because of what they have experienced
at events such as Greenbelt. Support for Palestinians is often
regarded by many in the Jewish community as coming from a place of
antagonism towards Jews as a whole, or worse. However, it is worth
remembering that the Jewish community as a whole in Britain is as
divided on this issue as everyone else.
Many Israeli and diaspora Jews are truly afraid that the
world cannot be trusted, and that Israel's existence as a
safe haven is very fragile. Unfortunately, politicians often play
on this. To Christians, such fears appear groundless, when
considering the terrible injustices and oppression suffered by
Palestinians. But they are real fears, and based mostly on real
I set up the Forum for Discussion of Israel and
Palestine (FODIP) specifically to promote positive
dialogue on the subject among British Jews, Christians, and
Muslims. Finding the language and vocabulary to express our fears
and horrors to each other is difficult, because of the emotions
involved, and we often fail to understand each other's responses.
Unless we meet people where they are, and encourage real dialogue,
we will not break this impasse. We need to work together for the
sake of all those in the region.
My parents' relationship with God and the Church was
complicated, but they were happy for me to be in church,
at least most of the time. I was an only child, and I married into
a huge family, whom I love and value greatly. Our own two children
are now grown up, and we have a delightful grandson. My husband is
retired, and is restoring a Victorian house we bought a few years
ago. He was born to be a churchwarden. His engineering skills are
invaluable when it comes to finding the problem in the boiler room,
or the source of the leak. He also has a love and a knowledge of
ancient buildings, and the people who frequent them, and no one can
touch him on the question how to lay a limestone floor.
I always enjoy the opportunity to travel to Israel and
the West Bank, though that's a very bittersweet
experience. The landscape, both physical and political, has changed
dramatically over the past ten years.
My taste in music is quite eclectic, but I
especially enjoy something with a good beat, whether it's rock or
I owe a great deal to a couple who ran the youth group
at Christ Church, New Malden, in the '60s and '70s:
Barbara and Douglas Hill. They taught a whole generation of us what
it meant to truly follow Christ.
The novel that has had the greatest impact on me is John
Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I read it once,
long ago, and could not bear to read it again, but that was enough
to impress it on my mind. It awakened the Socialist in me.
I pray always for the peace of Jerusalem, as
the psalmist demands. I believe in persistence in prayer, even when
things look bleak. I've seen so many answers to prayer in my
lifetime, not least in world events.
I'd like to be locked in a church with Barack
Obama - no bodyguards or entourage, just the man himself.
He could still change the world, but I'd like to hear about the
constraints holding him back, and encourage him, if I could.
Dr Clements was talking to Terence HandleyMacMath.