30 NOVEMBER 2010

You may know the story of a famous theologian in Jewish-Christian relations.  He was asked what he would say if he met the Messiah in Jerusalem.  He thought for a moment, and then said:  "I think I would ask him:  'Is this your first visit?'

You may not know that this story has a post script added by Martin Buber.

He says,  "Then an angel would appear and whisper in the Messiah's ear:  'Don't tell!"

He told the story to affirm the importance of dialogue in the present age - and of sustaining an important relationship of mutual exploration between two communities beloved of the Almighty. 

We stand for three things:

(1)    To promote religious and cultural understanding between Christians and Jews

(2)    To work for the elimination of religious and racial prejudice, hatred and discrimination, particularly anti-Semitism

(3)    To promote religious and racial harmony on the basis of ethical and social teachings common to Christianity and Judaism

This year, we have spent time re-evaluating radically the nature of our programme.  We aim to have meetings more frequently - with two complementary purposes - one is to promote relationships, the other is to have high-quality discussions about issues that really affect the engagement between Christian and Jewish communities that we hold so dear.

One event that combined both purposes perfectly was David Arnold's unique Food For Thought evening in October - where he and his wife Ruth cooked a five course kosher meal for 65 people, served at the Guardian Angels Parish Centre in Bury.  Between each course, David explained the significance of kosher food and practice within the Jewish community.  The response from all participants was overwhelmingly positive.

This year, the branch committee invited Louis Rapaport from Altrincham Inter Faith Group to describe the Friendship Groups that they have pioneered - groups of up to 8 people from different faith-communities who meet regularly in one another's houses.  We are still considering what lessons there may be for CCJ Manchester in the future from this way of engagement.

For high-quality discussions, we have had first-rate input.  Executive Director and Founder of the Woolf Institute, Dr Ed Kessler, gave a comprehensive and authoritative overview of the state of play today in Jewish-Christian Relations for our Maurice Brunner Memorial Lecture in October.  And Professor Bernard Jackson, now of Liverpool Hope University, but for many years a leading light of the University of Manchester's Centre for Jewish Studies, delivered a magisterial summary in November of the issues surrounding the Supreme Court judgement on admissions to Jewish voluntary-aided schools.  Intriguingly for CCJ, he related these insights to the Archbishop of Canterbury's controversial lecture to the Judges two years ago, where a misunderstanding of his views on shari'a law hit the headlines.  The principle behind them, "transformative accommodation", has great potential for Jewish and Christian self-understanding in a secular, plural society. 

The Holocaust Study Day, run by Rabbi Brian Fox and his team from Menorah Synagogue, continues to be the biggest CCJ event of the year - this November attracting 150 people to hear first-rate presentations, including a survey  by Professor Philip Alexander of current studies in Holocaust reflection, and a paper by Canon Albert Radcliffe on Auschwitz as the archetypal death-camp. 

In planning a programme, the branch committee gave a small working group the task to come up with new ideas.  But our first meeting was taken over by events in Israel-Palestine - and our perception of the need to create opportunities for Christian and Jewish people to explore together, possibly with Muslim participation, the issues behind the conflict.  The need for this was heightened for us by the Methodist Conference's Report on Israel-Palestine, adopted at the end of June, and an exhibition of art by schoolchildren in Gaza, in Manchester Cathedral in July-August, which, in our view, both required informed and considered responses. 

In all cases, we were aware of the danger of knee-jerk responses to crises, and an inadequate grasp of what was happening.   Thinking continues apace about the best way of making progress in this area.  But, with the working title of "Manchester Middle East Forum", we look forward to the beginning of an important new dimension of dialogue in 2011.

A significant year in many ways - celebrating the 100th birthday of one of our Presidents Emerita, Mrs Myra Cohen.

Penny Mittler licensed as a Reader.

Both David and I making full use of national CCJ - I am on the Advisory Board and David is representing the branch at national meetings.

This is a team effort.  May I pay tribute to all the officers on the committee - and thank them for their hard work throughout the year - for David, who is everything one would wish for in a vice-chair, soon to be our co-chair; for Martie, in all she does as Secretary;  for Michael, in keeping his experienced eye on our accounts - and for all who help them.

We look forward to the year ahead.

Revd Canon Steve Williams,
Manchester Branch, CCJ