Working on a paper for my Christians and Religious Pluralism class recently, I came across this statement in “Multi-Faith Worship?” the report of the Inter-Faith Consultative Group of the Anglican Communion: “Many Anglicans have little experience of visiting even other Christian churches for worship, so that the idea of visiting a temple, synagogue, or mosque may seem very strange to them.” This statement seems true to me, and it is a situation that needs to be remedied.
As an Episcopal laywoman, a Master of Divinity student at Episcopal Divinity School, and a human being committed to inter-faith dialogue, this is my mission: To lead myself and others to a deeper understanding of ourselves and people of other faiths. To create networks of community and engagement that foster respect, gracious hospitality, and pastoral support. To overcome theological and cultural prejudices and help promote wholesome communities. Why? The reasons for inter-faith dialogue are many, ranging from justice to pastoral care to understanding our own faith and that of our neighbors.
I grew up as a Christian in a Jewish neighborhood in the mid-twentieth century. My Jewish friends and I loved each other as children and neighbors do. But I was naïve and sheltered and was unprepared for the stereotyping and prejudice of the real world. I heard things outside the shelter of the neighborhood that hurt my mind and heart. By the age of twelve, I had resolved to work for justice for my neighbors. Later, when I worked for the local housing authority, I ran into the brick wall of narrow-minded ignorance. Stronger inter-faith networks of action for justice would have helped then. They must be built. As a very young woman, I married a Jewish man and lived without the support of a community and pastoral care from within either one of our traditional faith communities. I know now that inter-faith marriage doesn’t have to be like that.
Stronger inter-faith networks of the heart would have helped then. They must be built. And now, as a student of the Bible and a liturgist, I am engaged by conversations around Jesus in his Jewish context and the political and cultural context of the gospels as a dialogue among Jews in the first century. I’d like to take a good look at the Gospel of John and write a Good Friday service that is meaningful to Christians without being antagonistic to Jews. Stronger inter-faith networks of the mind, open-minded intellectual inquiry, will lead to more just worship, possibly even to worshiping together.
I identify myself as an emerging inter-faith leader with a mind, heart, and body to celebrate my Anglican identity while reaching out to embrace the holiness that is in the greater commonwealth of spirituality. Together we must respond to human need by loving service, seeking to transform that which is unjust, and striving to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. This is what God wants us to do.