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
Guest Contributor: Monica Karal
What happens when your own family is religiously diverse and doesn’t always see eye to eye on matters of faith?
My family circle includes a Jewish mom, a Hindu, a Christian Scientist (me), and some who haven’t spoken much about religious faith. Others are active in the Salvation Army.
This fall, due to public health guidelines, mom’s Temple didn’t hold the usual services for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
Motivated by love for God and family, I prayed to know how to honour mom’s desire to participate in these Holy Days and how to bring the family together in a meaningful way. I felt led to conduct an informal Rosh Hashanah service by teleconference and invite the whole family circle. Although all of us were raised Jewish, we’ve gone in quite different directions. How could I put together a service that would be faithful to mom’s Jewish traditions and would also be meaningful to all the participants?
I was guided by the Two Great Commandments that Christ Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures: to love God with all your heart (Deuteronomy 6:5), and to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). I used mom’s Reform Jewish prayer book as a resource, and did some background research to enrich my understanding of these Holy Days.
Many passages in her prayer book were from Psalms and the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures). So on the day of our family Rosh Hashanah service, I read those aloud with reverence. We dug deep into the spiritual themes of these Holy Days. After reading from Scripture, I invited the participants to share their reflections on the themes that emerged: justice, righteousness, lovingkindness, peace, light, repentance, and renewal. In the sacred space created by the readings about God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and forgiveness, the participants were able to speak from the heart, sharing thoughts that perhaps had not been expressed before. We talked about making peace with the past, setting fresh goals, and looking forward to regeneration and renewal.
I presented some passages from the Torah that highlight the strong sense of social justice upheld by Jewish law. For example, we discussed the Jubilee Year, a time of renewal which was
Instituted every fifty years and was devoted to restoration of property and to freeing people from debts and servitude.
During this experience, I was able to share a bit about the Christian Science understanding of God as characterized by justice, mercy, wisdom, and lovingkindness. These attributes of God are found in most religions. As our Rosh Hashanah service unfolded, I increasingly felt the impartial and universal Christ light bringing warmth and brightness to our gathering and to the whole idea of multi-faith encounters.
Two days after our family Rosh Hashanah, I was listening to the online Sunday service of my Christian Science church when I suddenly heard something special outside. I opened the window to see what was happening. An orthodox Jewish man wrapped in a talit (prayer shawl) was blowing a shofar outside. The shofar is a ram’s horn that was used in ancient Israel to announce important public and religious events, and it continues to be sounded today on High Holy Days. I felt moved with respect for the heartfelt traditions of my Jewish forebears and their commitment to monotheism, which I now understand better since I’ve been studying the Hebrew Scriptures more deeply.
I’ve been praying lately about reconciliation between Jews and Christians, and I’m grateful to be witnessing interesting developments right where I live. I recently moved to an area which I soon discovered to have many Chassidic Jewish residents. I’ve gained renewed appreciation for their way of life: their strong sense of community, their commitment to Tzedakah (righteousness and charitable works), their cherishing of children, and the quiet sense of peace that permeates the neighbourhood when they take their weekly sabbath day of rest. Since their synagogues have generally been closed during the pandemic, some worshippers stand outside on their home balconies to sing prayers together, a lovely way of meeting the religious requirement of a minyan (minimum of ten worshippers) to hold community worship. When a few neighbors complained about the singing, many non-Jewish neighbors posted supportive messages on social media such as, “We love to hear you pray!”
Recently, I listened to a sabbath service offered online by my mom’s Temple, and I was touched when the rabbi said, “The best way to love God is to take good care of God’s creation.” Honouring spiritual diversity and togetherness close to home can be an important way of caring for God’s creation.
If you are interested in interfaith activities in your town, and don’t know where to start, this will be a good learning opportunity.Blessings,The Mother Church’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Team
What does a Sikh believe? What is the most important Jewish holy day? How do Muslims honor Abraham?If you have questions like these, I want to share with you an opportunity to learn from a friend of mine, Dr. David Oughton, who is a recently retired professor of World Religions. He will be teaching via a Zoom webinar about a different world religion each Monday night, starting next Monday, September 7, 7pm central time, and going through December 14.This free public series is sponsored by the Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis. David is President of the Board of Interfaith Partnership (IP). I’ve served with him for many years on the Cabinet of IP. A few times he has asked me to speak about Christian Science to one of his classes. We serve together on a team of people working to make St. Louis one of the Compassionate Cities (more on the Compassionate Cities movement in another blog!) David is a good teacher/speaker and I’m looking forward to learning from him.To register for this lecture series, go to https://bit.ly/3gcmVDx. The registration page shows you what David will be covering each week, so you can choose which lessons you’re most interested in if you don’t want to attend them all. David has handouts of suggested reading material which he will email to registrants, and on the handout under Christian Science he has listed Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy and the biography of Mary Baker Eddy by Dr. Gillian Gill.If you are interested in interfaith activities in your town, and don’t know where to start, this will be a good learning opportunity.Blessings,The Mother Church’s Ecumenical and Interfaith TeamClick here to discuss this blog post and more in our Facebook group.
For many years a committed focus for many Christian denominations has been ecumenical dialogues moved by a purpose of building a better understanding of each other's Christianity and developing closer relationships toward greater cooperation. This continues today, and The Mother Church’s ecumenical team remains actively engaged in this effort.We have for some time been very aware of the growing interest and participation in interfaith dialogues and relationships. Many of us live in communities with growing numbers of neighbors who are members of religions other than Christianity. And our team too has had a growing level of engagement in interfaith relations with expanding opportunities for team members to participate.We are also keenly aware that many branch churches and some of their members are involved in interfaith activities in their local communities, and at times contact us with questions.For these reasons it seemed natural to reflect this expanded interfaith focus by changing the name of our activity to Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, which will also become the name of our Facebook page: Circle of Faith-Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, The First Church of Christ, Scientist.With our growing experiences with interfaith dialogues and activities we are better equipped as a resource for individuals who have questions about interfaith, as well as ecumenical activities.We would love for you to share your experiences with interfaith organizations or questions you may have.Blessings,The Mother Church’s Ecumenical and Interfaith TeamClick here to discuss this blog post and more in our Facebook group.Footnote: The Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations team serves under The Mother Church's Committee on Publication and is authorized by the Christian Science Board of Directors. In our work we strive to bring a clarity about Christian Science and respect for others to all of our conversations and engagements with people representing different faiths and Christian denominations.
By guest blogger Monica Karal, C.S., Committee on Publication for Quebec
At this time when many centers of worship are closed in compliance with government regulations about the public health situation, it’s so heartening to know that ecumenical encounters continue unconfined. On May 30, I participated in an Online Ecumenical Prayer Service hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) in English and French, via Zoom. The CCC “responds to Christ’s call for unity and peace, seeks Christ’s truth with affection for diversity, and acts in love through prayer, dialogue and witness to the gospel” (www.councilofchurches.ca). This event celebrating Pentecost was titled: “Together in One Place (Acts 2.1)” and provided an opportunity for Christians from all denominations to pray together for humanity at this challenging time. In addition to CCC representatives, there were speakers from the United Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and the Armenian Holy Apostolic Church. I think all of us participants had been asking ourselves: How can we continue our faith activities during this period of confinement and feel the same kind of unity and fellowship that we feel when we meet in person? I was touched to see that a key Bible passage from the Christian Science Bible Lesson of that week (the tower of Babel) was read during this ecumenical event. The passage tells how the people were trying to build a material tower to heaven, but then people and nations became scattered.The next passage read at the ecumenical prayer service was Acts 2:1-21, in which Jesus’ disciples were “all with one accord of one place”. There came a sound from heaven which filled the house, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and each person heard the Galileans speak about the wonderful works of God in his/her own language.The Pentecostal spirit was vividly present at this online event. One speaker said that we were all coming together in prayer, fellowship, and reflection to feel the spirit of the Comforter among us all.Amanda Currie, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, gave a moving presentation in which she said that we need to welcome diversity, knowing that it will challenge us and change us. I think this is a helpful paradigm for ecumenical work. I approach it as an opportunity to learn and grow through contact with other Christians as we all strive sincerely and wholeheartedly to follow our Master and deepen our Bible study. I was praying to know, How can I share something meaningful about Christian Science in a Zoom meeting with hundreds of participants? The chat function of Zoom was our opportunity to share. Hundreds of participants sent warm greetings and messages of hope and faith, and all participants could read these messages. I felt it was important for the Christian Science Church to be represented in this Canada-wide ecumenical event. I shared messages in English and French. First I shared a message saying, “Peace and love to everyone from the Christian Science Church.” I also sent a message saying that I knew we were all out there seeing our neighbor as God’s image and likeness. I think this idea conveys the strong biblical foundation of Christian Science, addressing the false notion that Christian Science is not Christian, and also helps us all see our fellow beings as perfect and spiritual rather than as potential carriers of contagion.The love, support and inspiration shared at this online event reminded me of what Mary Baker Eddy writes about Pentecost in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (pp 46-47). She says that after witnessing Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his disciples received the Holy Spirit. They were roused to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teachings and healing work, which helped them understand the Life which is God. She writes: “The influx was sudden. It was sometimes an overwhelming power as on the Day of Pentecost.”I saw from the chat messages that the participants felt this influx of the Holy Spirit and the power of collective prayer to bring healing to humanity. I believe we felt the Holy Spirit inspiring us all to continue worshiping God in our fundamental unity as Christians while also continuing to learn from each other’s distinct expressions of our Christian faith. The last speaker at this ecumenical gathering said: “Despite physical distancing, we are not alone. We live in God’s world. God is with us. We wish you a blessed season of ascension, of the coming of the Lord.”The final chat messages shared by participants said: “Such a beautiful, powerful worship together in one place.” “This was the most beautiful and moving prayer I have been part of in a long time.” “What a Spirit-filled experience!” Ecumenical encounters are continuing unconfined. Click here to discuss this blog post and more in our Facebook group.
By The Ecumenical Team
Mary Baker Eddy wrote regarding Easter Services, “In the United States there shall be no special observances, festivities, nor gifts at the Easter season by members of The Mother Church. Gratitude and love should abide in every heart each day of all the years” (Manual of The Mother Church, page 60).Recently, three ecumenical organizations-- Churches Uniting in Christ, Christian Churches Together, and The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA-- issued together a statement about Easter, including the following message: “To the leadership and members of Christian Churches in the United States of America: Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus the Christ! We come to you in a spirit of unity during this difficult period of time with an invitation to join together in witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus for all in the United States to see. On Easter, we celebrate the power of Christ to overcome evil and death. As proclaimed in the Gospel of John, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5).’ This is the message of Easter and, despite any differences we may have among us, this year may be the perfect time for all of us to come together to make witness to Christ’s resurrecting power.”What a wonderful opportunity we have this Easter and every day to embrace the world in our prayers and love and to witness resurrection as defined by Mary Baker Eddy: “RESURRECTION. Spiritualization of thought; a new and higher idea of immortality, or spiritual existence; material belief yielding to spiritual understanding” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, page 593).“He is risen!”Easter Blessings,The Mother Church Ecumenical TeamClick here to discuss this blog post and more in our Facebook group.
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)