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
Monica attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity in April and was inspired by what she learned and her encounters with attendees from various denominations. During her conversations she became aware of varying views on participation in the Eucharist and wanted to share what she was thinking and praying about.
Faith, hope, love. That was the sacred atmosphere at the 49th National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU), held in Washington, D.C. in April 2018. This yearly event honors the spirit of ecumenism by "celebrating the unity which already exists among Christians and searching for ways to overcome the divisions that remain." (http://nwcu.org/who-we-are)
As I contemplated the above statement in prayerful preparation for the NWCU, I asked myself: What’s the most important thing for me to keep in mind during this special opportunity to meet with Christians from so many different denominations? Pondering this question in light of the teachings of our Master, Christ Jesus, I came to feel that the most important thing was for me to express love.
One meaningful way I can express love for my fellow Christians is to take a genuine interest in the issues important to them.
An issue that continues to be of concern to many Christians is the question of who is permitted to receive holy communion in churches. Some churches will serve the Eucharist only to individuals who are members of their denomination and meet other requirements.
Sincere efforts have been made by NWCU planners to shed light on this issue. Workshop Co-Chair The Rev. David Simmons (ObJN), explained in this year's NWCU liturgies booklet that years ago, Catholic and Protestant attendees left the NWCU site at worship time to have liturgy and communion in their respective churches. But for the past several years, two liturgies have been held on site. All conference participants are welcome at both (although one group can’t receive communion at the other group's services).
Rev. Simmons writes, "While it is true that there is still pain over the fact that we cannot receive the sacrament in each other's services, I have come to see our common celebrations as a commitment to future unity." This represents progress for NWCU participants, who are often leaders in their faith communities.
During the NWCU, I made a point of learning more about this issue. I didn’t know much about it, having grown up in a Jewish home and become a Christian in adulthood. I listened with interest to those who shared their views about this issue both in plenary and in informal conversations during meals and breaks. I now understand that churches who restrict communion to their own members feel that it isn’t right to offer the Eucharist to those who don’t fully ascribe to their church's beliefs and practices. At the same time, I now understand that those not allowed to receive communion at another denomination's mass may yearn to feel included in this central sacrament which they feel should be freely offered to all believers.
Seeing how important this issue is for many Christians has led me to feel compassion for all involved, and I feel moved to pray about it to support progress and healing. I'm finding that praying with the Lord's Prayer is a good place to begin.
The following passage in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Supper is significant to Christians of all stripes:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
—Luke 22:14-20 (NIV)
All Christians, including Christian Scientists, are included in the sacred calling to think and pray deeply about Jesus' call to his followers to eat of this bread and drink of this cup. In his sermon where he explains that he is "the bread of life," Jesus says, "... it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven." (see John 6:32, NRSV).
I trust that God in His infinite wisdom and goodness is speaking to each Christian and revealing the deep meaning of the Eucharist in a way that best promotes our growth in grace, our path to redemption, and our ability to follow our beloved Master.
We may not all be united in our liturgies or sacramental practices. Yet all Christians are embraced in the divine calling to partake of our unity with Christ and pray for the full manifestation of Jesus' promises. I have a growing conviction that this collective prayer will bring us in closer communion with Christ and thus with each other.
By Susan Humble, PhD
On April 19th, 18 Christian Scientists from Canada and around the U.S. gathered together in Silver Spring, Maryland at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU). It was the largest group of Christian Scientists to attend this annual workshop, and it was noticed by other attendees. We felt warmly welcomed by the organizers and many others.
Why were we there? What drew us to attend was our common interest in wanting to learn how to talk with others about Christian Science and learn more about other denominations. Christian Scientists from Canada and ten different states across the country attended. We all learned that to practice ecumenism requires love, prayer, learning, and practice, and more prayer.
There were several highlights that were meaningful to me. The first one was the rare opportunity the eighteen of us had to gather together for nearly five hours on Monday afternoon. Our topic for discussion was “Living Love: Cherishing how Christian Science and Christianity are one.” Shirley Paulson and I shared several points on why some say Christian Science is not Christian, and how we can help lift this misconception. We had an open question and answer session that included the importance of sharing ideas from the Bible rather than starting by quoting Mrs. Eddy and of beginning conversations by focusing on what you have in common rather than differences.
An Evangelical friend of Shirley’s stopped in to share a few ideas on how he came to understand, appreciate, and now correct people’s misconceptions of Christian Science. His support for Christian Science, which came from numerous discussions with Shirley, is an inspiring story and a true testament to loving and sharing with your neighbor; in other words, engaging in ecumenism.
One attendee shared, “I think our beginning session was outstanding, it so prepared me for the openness and Love I needed to express while there.”
One of the primary purposes I attend this workshop is to talk to attendees from other Christian denominations. I began thinking of these conversations as “ecumenical encounters.” I find rich opportunities in most discussions to watch God work, to let Love lead, to learn about and from others, and to share something about Christian Science. Several people said to me, “I didn’t realize that about Christian Science.”
Another important lesson I learned is that “ecumenical encounters” do not always require much verbal communication to be effective. One experience that I had involved a Catholic priest I had met at a couple other meetings. He previously had no interest in talking with me. He and I were attending the same workshop, and he had to leave the room because of a physical challenge. As I began to pray I left the room to see if I could be of assistance in any way. I stood near him in silence, praying, and smiling at him. I asked if there was anything I could do for him. When he was ready to go back into the room he thanked me multiple times for caring enough to come out to help him. We’ve had pleasant interchanges since then.
I recognize that most, if not all the readers of this blog have experienced inspiring “ecumenical encounters.” We would love to hear one of your meaningful experiences, so we have a chance to learn from each other.
By Maryl Walters
I’ve been involved in the interfaith community in St. Louis for about 25 years. It has been educational and enriching all along the way. Let me share with you an example of the kind of interfaith experience you might have in your community. This occurred a week ago. It was the annual meeting of the Interfaith Partnership (IP).
I’ve served on the Cabinet of IP for a number of years, but the meeting was open to everyone interested. It was held in a Reform Jewish temple. I’ve been to the temple before and it is a warm, contemporary space with beautiful stained glass windows. As I walked in, I realized that the 50 or so people I knew out of about 100 in attendance, were people I would never have met if it weren’t for interfaith. They have become dear friends over the years and enriched my life in many ways.
The meeting opened with a prayer given by a Shi’a Muslim doctor whose mosque is in my neighborhood. (See the picture above.) Business was accomplished quickly, and then the visiting speaker, Rev. Robert Chase, presented wonderful ideas on the topic: “Courageous Conversations.” His recently published book, Beyond the Comma: Life at the Intersection, provided a framework for moving us past our sometimes awkward feelings and fears toward dialogue that is more authentic and compassionate.
Rev. Chase gave a surprising example of misperceptions: a group of ordinary Pakistanis who were asked to describe Americans in one word. Their word: “terrorists.” And of course, a group of Americans were asked to describe Pakistanis in one word. They came up with the same word: “terrorists.” How important for us to actually meet others and get to know them so we don’t categorize them in such mistaken ways.
The audience was asked if we had ever missed an opportunity to challenge a situation where we observed racial slurs or actions, for instance. We all thought of times when we wished we had spoken up, or stepped up. He encouraged us to be attentive to these experiences and learn from them—to think how we might respond differently in the future.
Rev. Chase encouraged us, when someone makes a negative or disparaging comment to resist a direct argument but to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s just not my experience. And then share a personal experience that shows the humanity of whomever is being disparaged. He spoke of creating intersections, not boundaries, and how important it is to keep listening and keep talking with others.
In fact, I’ve learned over the years that the Golden Rule of ecumenical and interfaith relationships is: Listen as you would be listened to. Know the other as you would be known. And of course, love them as you would wish for them to love you.
By Susan Jostyn
As an ecumenical associate in the Committee on Publication office of The Mother Church, I recently gave a talk on Christian Science to an ecumenical audience. The question and answer session afterward made it clear that I needed to improve and elaborate on the way I describe mine and other Christian Scientists’ engagement with social justice. Just one blog can’t cover the whole ground, so you’ll be hearing about this topic more than once!
Many of the Christians I know base their engagement in social justice on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The prophets urged that we treat at-risk people--specifically, strangers, orphans, widows, the poor, and the innocent who have been wronged--with justice and righteousness (see Jer. 22:1-5 as an example). Jesus echoed this theme, connecting salvation to tangibly providing for the hungry, thirsty, unclothed, sick, and imprisoned (see Matt. 25:32-46). I would add that every time someone chooses where to live, work, or travel (or not), every time someone talks to or spends time with someone else (or not), buys a product (or not), etc. he or she is involved in social justice. Some communities, organizations, and products are more socially responsible than others and spending money with one as compared to another supports one type of practice over another.
The sixth tenet of Christian Science (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 497) describes an approach to social justice that I’ve found helpful. First, it urges a promise to watch and pray. The Christian Science Monitor is a trusted ally for me when it comes to watching. It exposes me to a wide variety of national and international issues in a way that is balanced and respectful, including humanizing narratives from multiple sides of any story. It opens the way for my commitment to pray in the face of any situation that does not reflect God’s loving, intelligent, healthy, and just care for creation. Articles from the Christian Science Sentinel, giving me solid examples of how others have prayed about social justice, have also been a help (see "The supremacy that unites us" as an example).
Engaging in ecumenism has caused me to be more attentive in my prayers and to take the practice of watching and praying about social justice “on the road”. I want my fellow Christians to know that I care as much as they do about social justice issues, and that I’m working together with them. The way I do this is by being what I call a “prayerful presence”. I know that other Christians are striving to be prayerful as well, and my presence supports their prayer, even if their resulting actions are different than mine.
I’ve attended clergy meetings related to a wide variety of issues, including race relations, morality in government, immigration, religious tolerance, the school-to-prison pipeline, etc. For example, when a freedom of speech rally was held in Boston Common in August of last year, I walked well ahead of time to a church nearest to the rally site. The church was open for prayer so I sat quietly next to fellow Christians and texted with ecumenical friends who would be marching in response to the rally. I prayed for everyone I saw or who came to mind: the city workers setting up, the police officers preparing, the tourists wandering around, those who were gathering to rally, those who were marching in response, those who might be at risk on all sides, and so on. I even prayed as I walked home, until the rally and march were over and everyone left Boston Common.
Other people responded differently than I did to the rally and march. One of the things I love about the Christian Science church is the way it makes space for unity among those who take individually distinct actions. Out of its trust in the presence, power, inspiration, and action of God--through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and communicating directly with everyone--the Christian Science Church does not dictate specific social justice actions to members.
Most important, being a prayerful presence does not mean that individual Christian Scientists and/or churches of Christ, Scientist should not be or are not actively involved in the work of social justice. The sixth tenet goes on to encourage doing “...unto others as we would have them do unto us”, as well as being “merciful, just, and pure” (Church Manual, p. 16). Christian Science provides the inspiration and "Courage to take a stand", whether it be alone, through ecumenical, interfaith, or secular groups, or even as informal groups of Christian Scientists. There isn't just one way to engage with any issue, and the world needs people engaging in multiple, creative, individual, collective, and unified ways. May God give everyone the light, courage, energy, and community needed to engage prayerfully, actively, and effectively in social justice.
How does The First Church of Christ, Scientist participate in ecumenical affairs?
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)