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 Shirley Paulson, C.S., Ph.D.
Growing up in a Christian Science Sunday School, I had never heard of Lent until one day when one of my elementary school classmates arrived with a dirty smudge on her forehead. I thought she should know about it, so she could wipe it off. But she insisted it was there on purpose, and she was proud of it.
Little by little since that day, I’ve been piecing together why some people (more than I realized when I first saw it) wear those ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads, why even more Christians tell us what they’re “giving up for Lent,” and finally why nobody talked about it in my church! There are good reasons for all three.
First, the tradition of the ashes that appear on ‘Ash Wednesday’ marks the beginning of the Lenten season, which lasts until Easter. The ashes are a symbol of penance, mourning, and mortality, in acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice for the world. The ashes are made from the burning of the palms of the previous Palm Sunday and are typically mixed with Holy Water or oil. The season of Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and the 40 days are often associated with Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness before Satan came to tempt him.
Clearly, not all Christians think of the observation of Lent in the same way. But as we consider why there is such a variety of traditions, we are exercising a little of the ecumenical spirit. Learning how we all respond to Lent helps us understand our own traditions a bit better, how to understand others, respect them, and possibly even value some ideas that strengthen our own.
A little history helps us understand our roots and why we do what we do today. Fasting was an accepted tradition for Jesus. He taught the importance of private voluntary fasting as a Jewish practice of religious devotion (See Matt 6:16-18). After his crucifixion and resurrection, his followers observed that occasion by associating his crucifixion with fasting for a couple of days before the celebration of Easter. And then the more formal and extended traditions of observing Lent began around the fourth century, around the time of the Council of Nicea. Christianity had just become legal and a state religion, so Christians could openly discuss and solidify themselves as a people. Understandably, their practices became more visible.
By the time of the Middle Ages, fasting for Lent had become an increasingly intense and extended Roman Catholic requirement. It was natural, then, when the Reformers of the 16th century stirred up opposition to Roman Catholic observances, one of their points of demarcation was their opposition to the observance of Lent. One of the principles of the Reformation, known as sola scriptura, was that only Scriptures – and not the church – would dictate what observances should be followed.
But as Protestants began to distinguish themselves from each other, their attitudes toward Lent also became more distinct. Calvinists were the most opposed to all church Holy days, so those traditions with Calvinist roots are least likely to observe Lent today. That would include Christian Science and Baptist traditions. This is probably why I, as a Christian Scientist, had never heard of it. Also Amish and Mennonite churches, coming from an Anabaptist tradition usually do not observe Lent. Roman Catholics are still the most traditional in their commitment to Lent, but other Christians, especially Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox also practice the tradition.
While the original meaning of repentance, spiritual reflection, and sacrifice is increasingly lost in today’s practices, more Christians are now drawn to the simple idea of giving up special foods or making some other sacrifice that also contributes to a better lifestyle. Regardless of one’s current denominational affiliation, the presence of the Lenten season can serve as an invitation to any Christian to consider the authenticity of their own commitment to spiritual reflection, humble prayers, and devotion to God that takes place privately as Jesus commended in the first place.
I appreciate my Christian friends who wear their Ash Wednesday crosses on their foreheads, and my other Christian friends who discuss what they’re giving up for Lent. They help me think about whether there’s some place for me to reconsider that teaching from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – to fast privately. Maybe lots of Christians are doing it that way too, and I just never knew it!
Shirley Paulson and I are grateful for the heartfelt recognition and appreciation for her work as the Committee of Ecumenical Affairs these past ten years. So much progress has been made and many lessons learned.
All of us serving on the Ecumenical Team, including Shirley, are continuing to refine our plans for 2018. These plans include what conferences we will be attending, our blogging, our responsibilities at the National Council of Churches, and our serving on various ecumenical organizations.
One of the questions in our prayers and thoughts is, how can we help you in your development of your local ecumenical and interfaith activities?
Now that the baton has smoothly passed, please share with us your thoughts on what additional resources or activities that we might consider. What have you found the most helpful and least helpful in our blogs? Are there subjects you would like us to cover or cover more deeply in the blogs? Are you familiar with and do you refer to the resources available here on this webpage? Are you aware of ecumenical events you can participate in? Are there topics you would like to learn more about?
A serious part of our work is being aware of and addressing misconceptions or falsehoods that some believe about Christian Science. Is there a question on which you would like some insight from us?
Please share your feedback with us. If you’re reading this blog on christiansience.com, you are welcome to email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. We appreciate your participation in Circle of Faith, because we want to learn from you too!
SHIRLEY: Ten years ago Michael Kinnamon, who was then the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), invited me to attend my first meeting with the Board of Governors of NCC as a visitor. Since I could only attend as a representative of The Mother Church and with the permission of our Board of Directors, that moment marked the beginning of our current relationship with the ecumenical movement. Since that time, our involvement in the ecumenical movement has deepened and matured.
Ten years is often a good benchmark for evaluating where you are and where you’re going. In my case, it marks an occasion for gratitude and a realization that it’s a good time to pass the baton along for others to enjoy the experience. How grateful I am for the privilege of passing this baton to Dr. Susan Humble, who has been serving on the Ecumenical Team of The Mother Church for two years and is already comfortable running in her ecumenical shoes.
In addition to her love for Christian Science, Sue brings a strong academic and business background with practical ecumenical experience. Her highly appreciated work on her NCC Convening Table (Christian Education, Ecumenical Faith Formation, and Leadership Development) was so successful, she was quickly recruited to chair the Table. She has also participated in most of the ecumenical activities where Christian Science has been represented nationally.
The concentration of her doctorate work at the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology was in biblical interpretation both of Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the History of Judaism and Early Christianity. So her experience with the Bible is extensive and serves her well in dialogue with Christians of all traditions. Sue’s well-known prayerful approach to her work will bring comfort and wisdom to those both inside and outside the Christian Science community.
And how grateful I am that during the ten-year period since I have served The Mother Church first as simply representing the Church ecumenically, and then officially as Committee for Ecumenical Affairs, we have gained a great deal of new public respect and appreciation for Christian Science. We have established a clearer appreciation for the global ecumenical movement of the past century, and many new Christian friends have conveyed their gratitude for the presence of Christian Science in ecumenical commitment to Christian unity. Many Christian leaders, scholars, and ecumenists have listened carefully to the message of Christian Science and have changed their opinions more favorably.
Christian Scientists have also had an opportunity to learn and grow. Our team works directly under the management of the Committee on Publication, and we have witnessed many cases in which impositions on public thought toward Christian Science have been lifted (the mandate for the Committee on Publication through the Church Manual). A number of Christian Scientists, who have seen the Bible as a connection with other Christians and who see ecumenical practices as a response to Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity, have been learning to engage in an increasing range of ecumenical activities.
I am indeed counting my blessings and am especially grateful for Sue’s willingness to offer her many strengths – spiritual, academic, Christian, and leadership – to the Christian Science Church as its Committee for Ecumenical Affairs.
SUE: Thank you Shirley for your love, dedication, and prayerful persistence in your leadership as Committee for Ecumenical Affairs. Though you have stepped down from that specific role, I look forward to your active and valuable role as a member of the Ecumenical Team. I am grateful that with the continuing contributions of the Team — Barry Huff, Susie Jostyn, Madelon Maupin, Shirley Paulson, and Maryl Walters — we will experience sustained progress in support of the mandate for the Committee on Publication that Shirley mentioned above. I have learned and deepened both my understanding of Christian Science and how to engage with others. I am available if our readers have questions or comments and can be reached at email@example.com.
By Susan Humble, Ph.D.
Last week we wrote about an opportunity for supporting “Christian Unity” through the National Workshop on Christian Unity. And this week we’re highlighting another but unrelated event: the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Whether you live in Canada, Germany, or somewhere in between, you are invited to participate this week (January 18 – 25) in this global prayer. Christians everywhere, speaking any language, from all cultures, from large or small communities, are welcome to this fellowship of Christians seeking unity among the followers of Christ Jesus. (Traditionally, however, in the southern hemisphere, where January is a vacation time, churches often find other days to celebrate it.)
This is an annual week-long opportunity to find a way unique to your own situation that you can make some contribution to this prayer uttered by Jesus so long ago: “”that they all may be one” (John 17:21). The theme this year is “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power” (Exodus 15:6).
This week of prayer began in 1908 in the chapel of a small Atonement Franciscan Convent of the Protestant Episcopal Church, shortly before the global ecumenical movement began to pick up momentum. An early antecedent to this included the 1846 Evangelical Alliance based in London, where the concept of unity was espoused in their constitution, and the goal was to encourage unity among Christian individuals of different churches for renewal in the Spirit. The Alliance set aside one week each year for such prayer.
In 1915, the Faith and Order Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church published a Manual of Prayer for Unity. And in 1941, Faith and Order revised its ecumenical offering with “Suggestions for an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity,” so that Christians, who for reasons of conscience could not join with others in prayer services, could share in united prayer at the same time. (An ‘octave’ in many Christian traditions refers to the 8 days of prayer before or after a feast, such as Easter or Christmas.)
What can you do? Here is a website for Canadian participants. Here are some good resources for British participants. Americans can probably ask churches in their local communities if they are participating, and if they are offering an ecumenical event for other local churches. If you find no local activities, Christian Scientists anywhere can take a look at the other resources available through primary sponsors, Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute and the World Council of Churches.
You can scroll back to our Facebook blog of 1/26/17 to learn more about our reflections on it last year. And now we would love to hear your inspiration, opportunities, and activities. Please leave a comment on the FB page or else drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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)