WCF has been leading the way in building a community of individuals who want to create and enjoy the benefits of interfaith dialogue since 1936: in the early days its slogan was 'Faith Meeting Faith: a rich resource for life', and this still holds true.
The organisation has its roots in the Parliament of World Religions, first held in Chicago in 1893 and the Religions of Empire Conference, held in London in 1924. Inspired by these movements and his own spiritual experiences, explorer Sir Francis Younghusband, once described as ‘the last great imperial adventurer’, organised two international conferences in London, and after the second of these, in the shadow of a looming World War, WCF became established as an independent body.
Younghusband stressed that the primary aim of the initiative was to promote fellowship between faiths: there was no intention of formulating a new religion through convergence, nor of seeking the lowest common denominator, nor of appraising the value of existing religions and discussing respective merits and defects. Through discussion and reflection, and by coming closer to each other, members of different religions would deepen their own spiritual communion and the concept of God was strengthened.
The 1936 event from which WCF came into being was remarkable for attracting a galaxy of distinguished speakers from around the world, and from all the main faiths. Many of the papers emanating from it were groundbreaking, and remain of great interest today.
Particularly enlightening are the different attitudes which they display towards the relationship between religions. Several speakers, such as the Chief Rabbi and Canon Barry, stressed the differences between faiths, whereas others such as Ranjee G Shani believed these were trivial.
Some people claimed that their faiths must be accepted by the whole of mankind while by contrast, the paper prepared by Professor Haldane, who had died shortly before the conference, included this passage: ‘Many Christians entertain the ideal of converting non-Christian peoples to Christianity. I think that a much higher ideal is to understand and enter into sympathy with the religions which exist in other countries and to use this understanding and sympathy as a basis for higher religion’.