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
It was heartwarming to see Christians from many denominations venturing out in a frigid snowstorm to find warmth and fellowship at the Montreal meeting celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU). The gathering was held in French and English, in a downtown stone church beautiful in its simplicity.
Before the meeting, my prayer to God included this: “Help me to learn from others, to see each participant as Your image and likeness, and to know what to share about my faith, Christian Science.” My daily prayer is to know that God, good, the one power or Mind, holds the right understanding of Christian Science, and this Science is inclusive and blesses all.
The theme of this year's WPCU, chosen by churches in Indonesia, is “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (see Deuteronomy 16:18-20). A Canadian website with WPCU resources explains: “Drawing on the traditional values of Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in diversity) and gotong royong (living in solidarity and by collaboration), Indonesian Christians invite us to be a united witness, and an agent of Christ’s healing grace in a broken world, by making specific commitments to justice, equality, and unity.” (Source: https://www.weekofprayer.ca/2019-wpcu-resources)
The sermon at the Montreal WPCU affirmed Jesus' message that God's justice, mercy, and grace are for everyone, not just those within a certain tradition. A presentation by an Armenian choir attuned our ears to the unique harmonies of Orthodox music and tradition. The lively, swinging Gospel choir reminded us that there are so many lovely ways to praise God.
Attendees were invited to reflect on how they might commit to a particular act of justice, mercy, or unity, and to write their intention on special cards that were provided. The cards were gathered in a basket as the offering, and at the end of the afternoon, each participant was given someone else’s card and invited to pray in support of the commitment on that card.
As participants met and mingled during refreshments, I asked various people about their denominations, and some asked me about mine. None of them had heard of Christian Science, so I was pleased to share a bit about my faith.
The first thing I generally share about Christian Science is that it’s based on the Bible. When explaining to one woman why our faith is called a Science, I felt led to say that it’s about consistency, witnessing that God is always present in every situation. She told me about her spiritual journey to find the church she now attends, and I listened with interest. I shared a couple of Christian Science ideas, which she found helpful.
In an exchange with a man from a mainstream church, I shared that a central focus of Christian Science is that we strive to view every individual as God’s image and likeness (as in Genesis 1:27), and to look for their spiritual qualities. I added that what I wrote on my “offering” card was my commitment to viewing people this way and acting accordingly. He replied that this idea was important for him too, and that he wrote essentially the same thing on his card! We agreed that seeing everyone as God’s children is a good foundation for justice and peace. This type of experience helps me understand the significant common ground that Christian Scientists share with fellow Christians. As we see that the Holy Spirit cherished by Christians is always present, we're guided in our desire to bless others through ecumenical and interfaith encounters.
I had a conversation with a very nice man involved in civic affairs, who appreciates diversity yet seemed skeptical of religious teachings. When I explained how a Christian Science practitioner helps people by praying with them and often sharing relevant Bible passages, he said, “How can things that happened thousands of years ago be relevant to our lives today?” I said, “That’s a good question,” and gave him an example of a relationship problem that was healed as I put into practice a passage from Proverbs: “A soft answer turns away wrath” (15:1, NRSV). He listened with interest and then said he felt that adopting this gentle approach could be helpful in his activities.
I loved my experience at the Montreal meeting celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, for so many reasons. Clearly, Christians of all backgrounds care deeply about justice in the world. And, I saw first hand how gathering together to share prayer and ideas with fellow Christians from multiple denominations can further unite us in our shared support of justice, and also highlight the unique contribution that each denomination contributes to Christ’s salvation of the world.
By Susan Jostyn
As the New Year begins, Christians around the world will participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This type of ecumenical activity provides people an opportunity to deepen their own understanding of what it means to follow Christ, to learn from others, and to clear up misperceptions. It does not require giving up essential theological points; it is an opportunity to think about and live them more thoroughly. Christians can pray throughout the year and especially from Friday, January 18 through Friday, January 25 in support of this increasing understanding and quest for Christian unity.
This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity focuses on Deuteronomy 16:20a: “Justice, only justice, you shall pursue.” (NRSV) That verse comes from a section of Deuteronomy which includes instructions to public officials, such as judges, who are responsible for people’s decisions on questions about Deuteronomic law (Deu. 16:17-20). The repetition of the word “justice’ emphasizes the instruction itself as well as the importance of pursuing “only justice” in decisions and treatment of the people. The Hebrew word צֶדֶק-- tsedeq, translated here as “justice” can also be translated as “righteousness.” Some people also relate righteousness with equality.
Throughout this past year, the topics of justice and equality have been primary focus points for many Christian churches and organizations. During the week of prayer for Christian unity, some Christian churches, organizations, and individuals might ask, “What is the association between Christian unity and justice? For Christian Scientists, perhaps one connection between unity and justice is the fact that our prayers for righteousness and justice for all humanity can contribute to healing what divides and separates us from others, including our own misperceptions about our fellow Christians.
Most everyone reading this blog will encounter multiple opportunities in their communities this year to meet and engage with Christians from different denominations. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, people might want to watch for invitations from local Christian Church Councils and organizations that are typically sent out to nearby congregations, faith groups, families, and individuals, welcoming people to pray at home and/or attend special worship services. The Circle of Faith team will be prayerfully establishing a spiritual foundation for our work as well as responding to various ecumenical opportunities this week and throughout the year. We will continue to share our ideas and would love to hear about your inspiration, opportunities, and activities as well.
By The Ecumenical Team
Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year
As we approach Christmas day, the celebration of the birth of Jesus in a manger in a small village called Bethlehem, we wish to express our love and gratitude for all of you. The life, teachings, and healing work of this master Christian remains in the forefront of our work throughout the year.
We look forward to another full and fruitful year as God/Spirit leads us to new opportunities to grow spiritually, to pray, to engage with others, to heal.
The Ecumenical Team: Barry Huff, Susan Humble, Susie Jostyn, Madelon Maupin, and Maryl Walters.
(Words from “Here we Come a A-wassaling”)
By Maryl Walters
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.
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)