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
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.
By Susan Humble, PhD
Imagine walking through the doors of a hotel conference room and as your eyes scan the room you see over two hundred people sitting around tables talking, smiling, and meeting new people. This was my first impression when I attended the NWCU (National Workshop on Christian Unity) meeting for the first time, and everyone was there because of their interest and commitment to live Jesus’ prayer for all believers, “…that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…” (John 17:21 NRS)
We were all there to engage in ecumenism—to better understand and appreciate one another as fellow followers of Christ Jesus. I’ve learned that to practice ecumenism requires prayer, learning, and practice, and more prayer.
This National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) is a conference for people interested in ecumenism—to be in informal settings where you can be in conversations about Christian Science and hear from others about their communion (denomination). These rich discussions, when approached from the basis of bearing witness to Truth, are profound opportunities to grow as Christians—to watch God work, to let Love lead, and to help heal misconceptions about Christian Science.
The first day of the conference is set aside for people of the denominations who attend to hold their own meetings for discussions and sharing. Christian Science attendees will gather together to explore the subject, Living Love: Cherishing how “Christian Science and Christianity are one.”
The NWCUs Conference subject this year is God’s Power Nurturing Communities of Witness & Dialogue. It will be held at the Sheraton Hilton in Silver Springs, Maryland from April 16th-19th. The 3 1/2 days of the NWCU includes plenaries (talks) and workshops. More information can be found here: http://nwcu.org/2018-workshop/. (see below for information about registration)
So, why should I attend?
- Members of the Ecumenical team will be hosting a meeting for Christian Scientists who attend. The title of our session is Living Love: Cherishing how “Christian Science and Christianity are one.” We will begin prayerfully with the topic of ‘Love’ and loving one another, then discuss why some say Christian Science is not Christian, what they mean, and what we can do to help to heal this misconception. This will be a full, rich, and inspiring discussion.
- You will have an opportunity to meet and share with other Christian Scientists interested in ecumenism.
- Talk with Christians in a respectful setting where everyone wants to learn from each other, giving us all an opportunity to practice ecumenism.
- Hear ideas on what you can do when you go home and are led by Spirit to engage with others.
- This event isn’t about learning to say all the “right words,” but more about what it calls forth from us, spiritually—the new depths and dimensions it can bring out in our own practice of Christianity. Conversations with other Christians are opportunities for healing, and naturally drive us back to our Pastor, where we find new insights into the deep Christianity of Christian Science.
You may be wondering, is it worth the money I will spend? It certainly has been for me and others.
Here is what a few Christian Scientists who attended the 2017 NWCU gathering in Minneapolis shared.
From Anna Bowness-Park: The conference on Christian Unity was a new experience for me that was both enlightening and inspiring. In this picture I was feeling just so joyously grateful for all that I have learned, and the wonderful people I have met at this conference.
Shirly Paulson shared that the Christian Scientist attendees spent most of our time in our first meeting thinking through the spiritual grounding we share in our ecumenical work.
Beth Gibson wrote on the Circle of Faith Facebook page, “I attended last year and so recommend it, especially to my fellow Canadians, as there doesn’t seem to be anything like it here. Despite it being in the USA, it made feel so much more connected to the larger Christian field. I’ll be cherishing the idea of coming again this year, so glad for the invite!”
Mary Baker Eddy writes that “our unity with churches of other denominations must rest on the spirit of Christ calling us together” (Pulpit and Press, p. 21:26-27). If you are feeling called by this spirit, please consider joining us at NWCU this year. If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you may email me, Susan Humble, directly at email@example.com. Please let us know if you will be attending the meeting or have questions about registration.
Information about registration: see http://nwcu.org/2018-workshop/. You will register for the workshop and hotel separately. Under the home page tab you will see a link “2018 Workshop: information and registration. You will see the two links, one for workshop registration and one for hotel registration. Registration at the Sheraton Silver Spring Hotel is very straight forward, but note group rates are good until March 23, 2018 at 5:00 p.m..
The workshop registration needs a little instruction. Under workshop registration you will see a list of “networks: CADEIO, etc.” Important: We are not included as a network, but we are included as “other ecumenical partners.” You will find an online registration form at the bottom of the “Other Ecumenical Partners” page which allows you to pay for the conference and sign up for the buffet dinner on Wednesday evening.
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!
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)