How to Mark the Millenium
01 February 1997

Celebrations of the new Millenium should not be only a secular event

On 5 April we shall be 1,000 days away from the year 2000. This spring, the Prince of Wales and the Archbishop of Canterbury will hold their second gathering of religious leaders to consider the spiritual content of the Millennium celebrations, in the belief that the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth should not be a merely secular event.

At their first discussions, last October, they met with representatives of other denominations and faiths, including the Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Britain and senior Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders.

Over the next three years many ideas will emerge. Two aspects of the spiritual dimension need to be considered: the form and the content. The first could range from pilgrimages to holy places around the world, to the nationwide pealing of church bells and school essay-writing competitions.

Equally important is the substance. This should surely include acknowledgement of the contribution of Christian virtues to global development since the birth of Christ, and a commitment by people of all faiths to renew the spiritual dimension in their lives in an increasingly secular age. There is something about landmark anniversaries that encourages us to take stock, to want to wipe the slate clean, to make a new start. Even more so when it comes to the new Millennium.

Western Christians, for instance, might admit to the confusion between their culture and Christian values, from the Crusades onwards, and repent for past wrongs. The next centuries will see either increasing dialogue or greater conflict between the world's great religions and their respective spheres of influence. We are still a long way from a basis of trust. No one can demand to be trusted, but they can act in ways that prove themselves to be trustworthy. Genuine expressions of regret can help in this.

If the Millennium celebrations could help to build that trust between the faiths we might all have cause for gratitude long after the celebrations are over.
Mike Smith