Ecumenical and interfaith ideas
"The truth is the centre of all religion," Mary Baker Eddy wrote. Here, you'll find ideas that honor that center, the "circle of faith" of which we're all a part. We hope they are helpful as you listen and contribute to the healing dialogue going on between faiths worldwide.
Christian Science in the Christian Community
By Susan Humble, Ph.D.
New occasions for interfaith and ecumenical dialogues bring new opportunities. Any number of times I have wished for “do-overs” in conversations, learning how I would ask a question or say something in a different, even better way the next time.
I recently learned to appreciate what have felt like missteps in my interfaith and ecumenical conversations. This appreciation came about when I came across a TED Talk presented by the Three Interfaith Amigos: a Jewish Rabbi-Ted Falcon, a Muslim Imam-Jamal Rahman, and a Christian Pastor Don MacKenzie. They came together shortly after 9/11 to begin conversations among themselves about their different religious traditions and how to bring healing to the world. Admittedly, it was not an easy or smooth process and they made many missteps, but they were committed to the process and just kept working at it, realizing along the way that it was very rewarding. Their TED Talks are helpful, serious in nature, but entertaining. I highly recommend Breaking the Taboos of Interfaith Dialogue, and a second TED Talk entitled "TEDxRainier - Interfaith Amigos".
Examples of numerous “do-overs” I would love to have (and probably will sometime) include answering the questions: why don’t Christian Scientists get medical care, how did Mrs. Eddy come up with Christian Science, why are you a Christian Scientist, and how do I heal through prayer? I left these conversations thinking I should have answered them differently — if only I could have a “do-over.” Or there are the times I get into discussions and my statements back me into a corner where it’s hard not to feel that I’m not representing Christian Science very well.
A couple of weeks ago I was excited to learn that the Three Amigos were holding an interfaith workshop in Seattle, not far from where I live. The title of the afternoon workshop was “Creating an Effective Foundation for Interfaith Dialogue,” and the evening session was titled, “Interfaith Dialogue for Challenging Times.”
The Amigos use of humorous examples of their own missteps in learning how to talk with each other was insightful and instructive. But what was meaningful to me is how these men assured us with such patience that we will make mistakes, but to keep working at it, and reminded us that they have been working at it for fifteen years.
One of my key take-aways was the importance of learning how to share what I believe is the primary (core) teaching of Christian Science. Core teaching means the lens through which we look at our religion. Oh, that requires some thinking and praying. It’s easy to share many wonderful points about Christian Science, but the primary teaching in a few short sentences requires some deeper thought.
Here are questions that got me working on “do-overs:”
- Why am I a Christian Scientist (or other tradition if you are other than a Christian Scientist)?
- When in my life have I felt closest to understanding the divine, God?
- In what ways is my faith identity part of and an influence my life?
- What do I believe is the most important contribution my understanding of Christian Science offers my family, neighbors, the world?
Honestly, as I work on answers to these questions I realize that they require that I get to know Christian Science better, to clarify and thus deepen what I understand, believe, and practice.
These and other resources do not replace my prayers for this work and my study of Christian Science in learning how to discuss Christian Science in an interfaith or ecumenical setting. I found The Three Amigos’ shared experiences helpful and encouraging that we all need and get “do-overs” from time to time and from these we can all do this work better and learn from each other.
By Maryl Walters
I just met an active ecumenist in Victoria, BC, Canada—Beth Gibson. Her faithful and enthusiastic ecumenical and interfaith work was so inspiring that I asked her to write about it.
Here is her contribution to this week’s circle of faith blog:
Four years ago, I was invited to represent my church on our city’s downtown Christian ministerial group. My fellow church members and I were overjoyed! Only a year before that the same group refused our participation, as we are not members of the Canadian Council of Churches. After the refusal, I had continued to be active in as many ways as I could in both ecumenical and interfaith events in Victoria. Once the ministerial council reversed its earlier decision, I started attending their meetings. Our church executive board at the time wished it to be clear to this group that I was sanctioned by the congregation, but not a denominational leader, so they created a title for me — “Ecumenical Liaison.” [ If you’d like to read an account of our becoming a member of this group, it can be found in the Christian Science Sentinel, article: “At the Table with other Christians” April 1, 2013.]
Here are some of my ecumenical liaison activities:
After quietly attending many meetings, listening and learning, I volunteered to help organize an event series to be hosted by five different congregations. This was a Lenten event series that at first I honestly couldn’t see how our church could participate in! It wasn’t “normal” territory for us! But here we were - asked to share how we approach important social issues, asked to be part of the conversation! And I just knew in my heart there was a right and honest way for us to do so.
Our church board appointed a committee, and we prayed and considered what we had to contribute. The evening programme took shape with hymns, short readings from the Bible and Science and Health, the Lord’s Prayer, and contributions from three CS practitioners from our congregation who shared ways that Christian Science contributes to social issue conversations: one shared how a Christian Scientist might pray about an issue; another shared the role of the Monitor; and another shared the importance of challenging citizen apathy. Next we had small groups at tables to dialogue through a list of questions. We even realized that in accordance to the event series programme — we too could serve soup. It was natural to “break bread” with our Christian neighbours!
Two years later, after being elected to co-chair of the Alliance, I was asked to emcee this group’s 25th anniversary dinner and program, at which the local Anglican [Episcopal] and Catholic bishops were present as guest speakers. [Oh my goodness!- no pressure!]
The first year we recognized the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, our First Reader and I conducted a short service in our church. The second year our First Reader offered a service adapted from the World Council of Churches Week of Prayer for Christian Unity outline. The third year we offered our church auditorium to an evangelical congregation who conducted a ½ hour worship service. The meaningful conversations that arose from that partnering were truly Christ “calling us together.”
This past week, the ministerial group partnered with our local Salvation Army Addictions & Rehabilitation Centre to host an interfaith gathering at our church. People were invited to come prepared to share anything that contained assurances and praises of the divine power and ability to meet needs, sustain, restore, reconcile, and heal those who are rejoining their community after leaving jail. This activity was spiritual support for a Salvation Army-organized day-long forum scheduled for the following day, focused on better meeting the needs of this group of former inmates. [Inspiration for this initiative was Janet Horton’s Christian Science Sentinel article “Spiritual Safety Briefing,” May 16, 2011.] Glory be to God for growing these Christian bonds!
It’s Maryl speaking now: The accompanying picture shows Beth talking with a Baha’i friend at a Christian Science table in the lobby of an interfaith panel sponsored by local Muslims who asked Beth’s church to provide the Christian speaker on the panel. Nearly 200 people attended the event, and 12 copies of Science and Health were taken.
By Shirley Paulson
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with some National Council of Churches (NCC) leaders to ask their thoughts on the relationship between ecumenism and political activism. I asked, because in this climate of political upheaval, many Christians are called to respond in the best way they know how – individually and collectively.
I wondered, for example, how the ecumenical support of some particular government program strongly supported by one political party would not serve to divide Christians more than uniting them. If all of us as Christians are already united in our commitment to help the poor and needy, then how can we work as a united group of Christians toward one political objective or the other?
Jim Winkler, President and Secretary General of NCC explained how this discussion reflects a current manifestation of the tension felt from the beginning of the ecumenical movement between two important forces: between those who think we should focus on theological and doctrinal differences (through the Faith & Order movement) and others who said, “Thank goodness we’re together now, because we have a lot to do in terms of poverty, war, racism, etc (through Life and Works). So ecumenists ask, “Are we looking for theological unity? unity of Spirit? unity in practice”?
This brought up a discussion about the role of The Christian Science Monitor. How does it engage with human needs from a Christ-driven source? I mentioned that I think of the Monitor’s niche as transformation of conflict to be seen in a better light. It does speak to us as individuals, and it respects the responsibility of individual prayer and response. But it calls for a healing approach to systemic issues. So it seems to offer an important balance between individual and collective responsibility.
And yet in our work with other Christians, we are still asking the question: how do we think of our Christian response in unity with other Christians?
Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, NCC Chair, offered some helpful reflections. She said that the decisions and policies they (NCC) work through are based on biblical and theological reflection and discussion. “We find our unity by going back to biblical reflection and basic principles we can agree to – such as helping the poor and needy.” And she affirmed that our unity is truly in Christ. “We can never get away from that.” Then, with a slight uptick of passion in her voice, she said, “We really understand unity is a gift from God! It is not something we achieve or build on our own. We manifest it better or worse, and we receive it more thoroughly or less thoroughly, but we keep in mind that unity is God’s gift. That’s why we need to be in loving relationship with all who claim the name of Christ.”
This powerful commitment to Scripture and agreement with the fact that our unity is already established in God is the foundational premise for our work together today and in years to come.
I hope that you (our readers) will join me in thanking Jim and Sharon – and the other NCC leaders – for sharing their time with us. Tony Kireopoulos (Associate General Secretary, NCC) and Rev. Paula Dempsey (Membership and Ecclesial Relations Committee Chair), as well as Rich Evans (Manager, Committees on Publication, CS Church) also participated in this lively conversation. If you have some thoughts to share in our Circle of Faith Facebook group, I’ll pass them along to all the participants. I’m sure they’ll love to hear from you.
By Madelon Maupin
One of the events that provides opportunities for Christians to come together in respect and community is “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”. The Southern California Christian Forum (SCCF) organized a celebration together with the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Sunday, January 22nd, in Glendale, CA.
Since I’ve been involved in the SCCF for the past few years, I was invited to have a small part in the program as a reader of some of the responses, and appreciated the opportunity. I was first struck by how many were genuinely pleased that a representative of the Christian Science church was involved. No one was shocked or dismayed, only pleased.
Next, I appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into the program, designed by the Lutheran Bishop who hosted the Christian community event at his church. It included a lively combination of music that we sang as a congregation as well as two choirs sharing from their own traditions (Armenian and Lutheran); Scriptural readings from several denominational representatives; more in-depth remarks by two bishops, appropriate to the occasion; and a candle-lighting that symbolized unity, including everyone in attendance as individual candles were lit for one’s neighbor.
In the program that was distributed to each attendee, the full text of both speaker and respondent was included. Christian themes of forgiveness, unity, justice, light and healing were underscored. I was particularly struck by the phrase, ‘ambassadors for Christ’, a phrase Paul uses in his second letter to the Corinthians: So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us (II Cor. 5:20).
To be an ambassador is to be an official representative in a foreign country. I wondered how often Paul must have felt he was in the ‘foreign country’ of the Roman Empire with its profoundly different values, even though he was a citizen. Yet what an inspiring representative he was for God’s kingdom, not a physical locale but a description of Christian qualities, described when he wrote to the Romans: For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).
I prayed that my involvement could be based on this same love of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, that Paul, and of course, Christ Jesus, exemplified — something I felt we all embraced during the service.
I share this so that readers might feel comfortable showing up at such a service in your own community to celebrate the unity quoted in John 17:23 that serves as a basis for ecumenical involvement: That they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
If Jesus Christ’s great commandment is to love God and each other as ourselves, as he verified in his conversation with the lawyer in Luke 10:25-28, this was a day of people practicing both with great sincerity. For these examples of unity and lack of judgment in a world crying for concrete illustrations of these, I salute all who participate worldwide, each sharing their love of the Gospel message with their neighbor. We would love to hear your own experiences and there is a specific place to share in the Circle of Faith Facebook group.
How does The First Church of Christ, Scientist participate in ecumenical affairs?
The Committee for Ecumenical Affairs works under the auspices of the Committee on Publication, and is engaged in ‘correcting in a Christian manner’ the misconceptions of Christian Science, particularly within the Christian community. Ecumenical team activities include writing pieces that appear on christianscience.com and articles for The Christian Science Journal and Christian Science Sentinel, and participating in ecumenical conferences, meetings, and organizations such as the National Council of Churches.
What is ecumenism?
Ecumenism is a worldwide movement among Christians to promote unity between Christian churches or denominations (or ‘communions’) in response to Jesus’ prayer that we be one (John 17:21). It recognizes the body of Christ in its entirety, learning to understand the ways, values, and communications styles of our fellow Christians. Ecumenical dialogue is vibrant and respectful, welcoming the gifts of others, while maintaining the integrity and purpose of each Christian faith tradition.
Why should Christian Scientists participate?
The ongoing dialogue with Christian leaders, clergy, and religion educators allows everyone to grasp better the idea exactly why Christian Science is Christian.
All churches and denominations are concerned with maintaining the purity of their ideas and practice of religion, and the ecumenical dialogue respects that integrity in others. It is with a spirit of humility that Christians value one another's faith and service to the common cause of Christianity. As we learn from others, we often find ourselves learning to appreciate and articulate better our own denominational roots. We have the opportunity to cultivate bonds of love and dispel misunderstandings. Ecumenism is one of many ways to practice active Christianity.
One of the most compelling reasons Christian Scientists have become ecumenically involved is that other Christians have been asking for us to participate in the greater dialogue and especially to explain and share our unique gifts more widely.
Talking to other Christians about Christian Science
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to successful ecumenical engagement can be the language we use. Every church or denomination has its own jargon, which can be baffling or unwittingly offensive to others. Without understanding the language, culture, and history of others, we often find ourselves trying to share our most precious ideas only to discover they mean something entirely different to our listeners. With love for others, we make the effort to learn their Christian ‘language’ in order to communicate the greatest depth of thought. Just as we maintain our own culture and identity when we learn a foreign language, we also maintain the identity of Christian Science while we learn the Christian practices and theology of others.
Prayer and insights about ecumenical engagement
- Getting our assumptions right in interfaith work by Brian Talcott
- Opening closed doors by Maryl Walters
- Invitation to worship by Kristin Jamerson
- What Christian Scientists Believe (Video) by Madelon Maupin, Brian Talcott, Eric Nelson
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon (who first invited the Christian Science Church to engage in the ecumenical movement, 2008)
Video: Mary Baker Eddy — A Heart in Protest
Responding to common questions
Michael Kinnamon talks about the meaning of ecumenical dialogue (YouTube video)
Discussion with Michael Kinnamon about Christian Science in ecumenical dialogue (in The Christian Science Journal)