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
In July, the National Council of Churches (NCC) joined with Buddhist and Hindu national organizations to hold dialogues in Los Angeles 8 days apart. I attended both of them representing the Ecumenical team of the Christian Science church. My official role with NCC is as a member of the Interreligious Relations Convening Table whose mission has been to dialogue with Jewish and Muslim national organizations, and now Hindu and Buddhist.
See a summary of the dialogues here: http://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/dialogues/
This report will focus on the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. The accompanying picture is of the participants in that dialogue. Both Hindu and Buddhist dialogues were held at the Guibord Center in the First Congregational church in Los Angeles. The mission of the Guibord Center is “to bring people together to challenge assumptions, unleash the Holy and affirm the faith that transforms the world.”
This was perhaps the first Buddhist-Christian dialogue of this sort on the national level. The purpose of the dialogues is to grow in relationship, work together, and be changed by the experience of being at the table together.
There are many branches of Buddhism, and several were represented at the table, as well as several branches of Christianity. All participants introduced themselves, their organizations and their work, so we could all get a feel for the breadth and diversity of participation at the dialogue. I was particularly interested in how the representative of the Episcopal church characterized current thinking in his church as their being the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.”
When it was my turn I was able to share a little of the beginnings of Christian Science, its practice of original Christianity including healing, its being founded by an American woman, Mary Baker Eddy, and its gender free practice. I also spoke of the role of the Christian Science Monitor.
Buddhism has been here in the United States since the late 19th century. There are ethnic Buddhist temples, focused around immigrant Asian groups, as well as “convert” temples for Americans who have taken up Buddhism. Buddhist teaching is about wanting to be free from suffering. They believe people suffer because of being attached to their things. Following the Buddhist 8-fold path, you gain freedom from suffering, and then you can liberate others. It teaches the “radical notion” that you’re already liberated.
There were presentations in the afternoon given by a Buddhist on “enlightenment” which was characterized as “going inside into the true nature of reality,” and by a Methodist Christian on “the presence of God” described as creator, care-giver, covenant-maker, judge, savior, sanctifier, and Trinity.
Many more ideas were covered, including the difficult subject of the treatment of Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar, which the Buddhists at the table characterized as more an ethnic issue than a religious one.
I was grateful to learn about Buddhism and meet a number of fine Buddhist people. I was also grateful to have fellowship with my Christian brothers and sisters and experience ecumenism, a unity in diversity, with them.
By Susan Humble, PhD
As we pass the annual transition from summer to fall marked by Labor Day, the Ecumenical Team is looking forward to our scheduled ecumenical and interreligious activities ahead of us. Susie will be heading to northern California to contribute to a workshop that includes the topic of ecumenism. Madelon and Maryl are traveling to Toronto Canada in September and November. The Parliament of the World’s Religions is being held in Toronto in early November and Maryl will be presenting a pre-Parliament workshop to Christian Scientists on several inter-religious topics in September. Madelon will be presenting a talk at the Parliament in November titled “Love Without Borders: A Biblical Model.”
For the first time, Susan, as Head of Ecumencial Affairs, will be attending the Christian Churches Together (CCT) annual convocation. Attendees of this gathering represent Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Protestant, Orthodox, and Historic Black Churches. CCT is an ecumenical organization the Ecumenical Team plans to get to know better.
In late fall the annual Christin Unity Gathering (CUG), which is the annual meeting of the National Council of Churches, will be held in Washington DC. Four of us who serve on Convening Tables (the NCC’s name for working committees) will be present.
Shirley Paulson will be one of our team members attending, but this will be her final year to attend as she notified the team recently that she thought it was time for her to resign from the Ecumenical Team. She assured me that she felt she had given her best to the Church’s ecumenical activities, that it was in good hands, and she has new opportunities she is pursuing. Shirley was the first Head of Ecumenical Affairs for the Christian Science Church, and she, along with a few others, actively worked to develop the Church’s relationship with the National Council of Churches, starting in 2008.
It is impossible in the space of this blog to recount all that has been accomplished in the advancement of ecumenical relations in the past 10 years that Shirley has been dedicated to working ecumenically with other denominations and organizations. Her most outstanding contribution is her love and selfless dedication to educating others about Christian Science and patiently addressing the many misconceptions about Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy.
We will always be grateful for her patience, generosity, enthusiasm, teaching, and dedication to the success of this important work for Church.
By Susan Humble, PhD
As Head of Ecumenical Affairs for the Christian Science Church I was invited to attend the annual Ecumenical Officers retreat held near Louisville, Kentucky. It was at this meeting where, gathering in the name of Christ Jesus, we experienced the fruits of Christian fellowship.
For me the overall purposes of the retreat were to meet and get to know ecumenical officers from other denominations and to learn about the work they do to further ecumenical relationships. I enjoyed meeting each of them and witnessing their joy and love for ecumenism, a joy that rubbed off on me. The tone immediately set among us all was one of trust that what each one shared would be held in confidence, differing views were welcomed and we each lovingly supported one another. I experienced the fulfilling of Jesus’ command to love one another.
Our meetings included prayer and Bible study followed by sharing and discussions on topics of interest and concern related to our denominations’ ecumenical activities. I was the newest addition to the group and the one with the least amount of ecumenical experience, and they were eager to hear my contributions and to answer my many questions. I was asked to offer the “evening” prayers Monday evening. The topic I selected, God’s wisdom leading us as we move forward, arose from a discussion earlier in the day about challenges churches and individuals are facing. I began with silent prayer, then I read selections from the Bible, the 23rd Psalm from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures written by Mary Baker Eddy, and closed with a prayer I wrote.
Everyone who attended the gathering has some understanding of Christian Science due to Shirley Paulson’s attendance at this gathering for several years. We all found a few opportunities to lovingly correct misstatements about our denominations, including Christian Science.
The scope of the work of most Ecumenical officers is quite broad, since they lead their churches’ efforts in both ecumenical and inter-faith dialogues and initiatives in the United States and internationally. They engage in dialogues with other Christian communions (denominations) with the goal of signed agreements establishing a relationship of full commitment partnerships, which may include allowing members of each other’s denomination to participate in Eucharist/communion and share their clergy/ministers. They also spend a portion of their time working within their own denominations engaged in training, writing, and teaching.
I felt united with them as we shared the need for praying about issues that affect most Christian denominations today: declining memberships and churches closing, splits over social issues, and members’ lack of commitment to church activities. One interesting new trend in ecumenism that was mentioned is that evangelicals are becoming more ecumenical.
There were numerous experiences and conversations I found meaningful in witnessing Jesus’ statement, “For where two or three gather in My name, there I am with them.” The expressions of love for God, Jesus Christ, Church, each other, and our work were tangible. I saw these new friends demonstrate to each other our common directive, to love one another: “And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
I look forward to next year’s meeting and sharing examples of my own growth and demonstrations of realizing “where two or three gather in My name, I am with them.”
By Monica Karal (Guest blogger)
When walking into an ecumenical meeting, or conversing informally with Christians of another denomination, I've sometimes wondered: What am I going to say? What will I share if asked about my faith? What do they already know about Christian Science? Might they have misconceptions, or even negative perceptions?
Rather than getting caught up in all that, I'm finding it more helpful to love, listen, and learn.
In April 2018, I attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) for the first time. Beforehand, I had given a lot of thought to what I might say about Christian Science in conversations with fellow Christians. After weeks of praying to God for wisdom and guidance, I didn't have specific answers about what to say. But I had grown to trust that my desire to love, listen, and learn would lead to fruitful interactions.
During the conference, I participated in an early-morning worship service conducted by one of the denominations. I soaked in the spirit of God's love for each participant and the world. When the service ended, I introduced myself to the woman beside me and started a conversation about what had been inspiring in the liturgy. Then I asked her denomination. When she told me, I asked whether she'd like to share something about recent projects or activities her church had been involved in. She happily told me of a project in which her church had brought “care packages” to students at a nearby college during exam time. I appreciated learning about how her church is loving its neighbors, and I asked some questions with interest. We talked about how God guides each of us in caring for our neighbor.
Then she asked me, "How is your church reaching out to the community?" I felt led to share a personal experience in which an employee at a neighborhood business had remarked on my having expressed a high degree of honesty, so I shared ideas with him about the mutual blessings of the Golden Rule, which he appreciated (see Matthew 7:12). I believe she saw that I was sharing Scripture in a relevant way with the community, and that the Bible (especially Jesus' teachings) is foundational to Christian Science. She smiled warmly as we parted.
This and other experiences have shown me that as I love, listen, and learn, I'll naturally be guided by God to share just the right ideas about my faith, and to witness God's all-embracing love for everyone. Each ecumenical or interfaith conversation is unique and special. It invites us to live our Christianity and to communicate whatever will be most helpful in fostering understanding and appreciation among different denominations or faiths.
Here are some favorite Bible passages that inspire me to love, listen, and learn:
LOVE: "... love one another as I have loved you" - Jesus. (John 15:12)
LISTEN: "... let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak..." (James 1:19)
LEARN: "let the wise also hear and gain in learning..." (Proverbs 1:5)
Have you found "love, listen, and learn" to be guideposts for ecumenical or interfaith conversations? We'd love to hear your experiences.
(All Bible citations are from NRSV)
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)