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 Susie Jostyn
When heartbreaking things happen, it’s essential for Christians to respond with compassionate action. When there’s no way to physically visit a problem area, we can contribute our thoughts and prayers. When the problem appears in our neighborhood, even as we spiritually embrace everyone involved, we must pray, listen, and ask, what is God calling me to do?
After the week which included the horrific deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the terrible shooting of multiple police officers in Dallas, religious leaders in Boston gathered at an interfaith prayer service and weighed in at a press conference. The Massachusetts Council of Churches spread the word about vigils and shared tips for ministry in a “time of violence and tumult”. With the desire to follow prayer with action, the MCC also convened a Boston Racial Justice Working Group. I felt compelled to go. I had to be together with my neighbors in asking, “What is God calling us to do?”
As a Christian Scientist, I’m grateful for our faith tradition’s long history of personal healing. I also treasure accounts in the Christian Science Sentinel and Christian Science Journal of how fellow Christian Scientists have prayed for their communities and the world, and become involved. Each person acted as inspiration directed. It’s clear that Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats only initiated—and didn’t conclude—a list of possible things that we might do to help our neighbor: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matt. 25:35, 36)
As a Christian Science church member, I’ve been involved in various ecumenical activities over the years. Among other things, I’ve attended other denominations’ church services and a presentation to our membership by an ecumenical friend. I’ve worked with fellow church members to support a joint visit to the Freedom Trail organized by black and white congregations, and a joint sponsorship and hosting of Vacation Bible School. I continue to ask, what can I do individually, what can my church congregation do, and what can we do together with other congregations?
I was grateful to be prayerfully present as lists of potential answers to those questions emerged from the Boston Racial Justice Working Group meeting. In order to develop healthy relationships between individuals and congregations, people suggested ideas like partnering on neighborhood peace walks and tours, holding joint youth service projects and book clubs, and having pulpit/speaker/congregation swaps. In order to support racial justice, people suggested ideas like group marches and letters to officials, as well as advocating for better health care, housing policy, and police practices (body cameras, smart guns, civilian review boards, recruitment for diversity, etc.). Each of these items pointed toward specific issues that I could support through prayer.
The Working Group hasn’t yet decided on joint steps, and when we do, there will be no pressure to participate. Each congregation will act as inspiration directs, and many people left the meeting already bubbling with individual and church plans!
As for me, I went away more moved, prayerful, and motivated than ever to engage with the issues and others outside of my denomination. Thankfully, this has rooted me even more deeply within Christian Science, while simultaneously expanding my consciousness and compassion.
“Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” (Matt. 14:14) There were many people, with probably countless problems, but Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed. He spent time alone in prayer, and he went out with the confidence that God was present, and that all people are God’s children, never given up to suffering. Through God’s grace, Jesus saw to it that people were empowered to overcome problems in ways that blessed everyone. We—individually and collectively—are called to do even greater things. The only way I can fathom doing that is through more grace, undaunted prayer and action, and through willingness to take up the work that God gives, whether it be alone and/or together with others.
By Madelon Maupin
Ecumenical participation and learning can come in some unexpected ways. I’ve been moved by the stories my husband brings home weekly from his work as an institutional chaplain in our county jails. Whether it’s the inmates themselves, the deputies, or other chaplains also working with those incarcerated, this kind of ministry affords numerous opportunities to talk with those of different faith traditions with sensitivity and respect. Just as those involved in ecumenical and interfaith councils and organizations find opportunities to break down existing walls of ignorance or misconceptions, Christian Science institutional workers can as well.
Recognizing this opportunity for education in all things ecumenical as well as interfaith, the State of California’s Christian Science Institutional Committee maintains a robust website, Light in Prison. A new addition to the website that could be helpful to those involved in any type of ecumenical or interfaith activity is a video interfaith series, ‘Breaking down walls, building understanding.’ With a dual motive to educate Christian Scientists who have prison ministries, as well as provide an opportunity for those of other faith traditions to share what they believe, the series is helpful and informative, this month featuring the Presbyterian denomination.
As the explanation of this series states, when others share what they believe, walls of misunderstanding begin to crumble, hopefully leading to greater tolerance.The newest video caught my eye because it’s approximately a six-minute interview with Rev. Dr. Charles Tinsley, a Presbyterian minister who is the Head Chaplain for the Contra Costa Juvenile Hall in Martinez, CA. Not only did I graduate from a Presbyterian Seminary (San Francisco Theological Seminary), but now serve on the board of Trustees with a group of predominantly Presbyterian ministers for the New Theological Seminary of the West.
Yet this succinct video telescoped their beliefs and provided insight I hadn’t gleaned before, sorting out terms previously heard but not understood in a larger context. I was engrossed watching Dr. Tinsley get increasingly animated the more he got into the subject he clearly loves. And how marvelous to hear him describe with experienced delight how God speaks to us in fresh ways through the same Biblical text, an experience I can testify to as well.
Another brief video on the same website that may be helpful for ecumenical work approaches learning from the other direction, and is titled: “What Christian Scientists Believe”. David Fowler, the website designer and manager, interviewed three Christian Scientists about ecumenical topics that others often ask, such as: 'Is salvation here and now? Is the Bible God’s word? Is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior? Are heaven and hell something we will experience? Have you reinterpreted the Bible?' These are classic questions I've certainly had in various conferences and meetings and suspect you have too. Maybe the respondents will share some ideas that can be helpful.
I appreciate how these types of resources are available and free to anyone committed to their own ecumenical education. If you explore them, please share your insights and learnings.
By David R. Corbitt
While I was driving down the street and listening to my local NPR station, a news story came on discussing “an archaeological discovery: The ruins of Berlin’s very first church, built in the 13th century, and destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly throughout history.
”The title intrigued me. “This place of worship would be 3-in-1: Church, synagogue and mosque.” It’s known as the House of One, with ambitious plans to build the world’s first hybrid church-synagogue-mosque in the German capital of Berlin.
It was reported that there are concerns the project could possibly fail because people might not want to worship in this space for fear of losing their individual faith. Listening to the story, I remembered my own experiences overcoming this very same fear.
Many years ago now, I began engaging with those of different faiths and experienced a fear that I have heard others voice as well. The fear that I might become misled and lose my unique identifier as a Christian Science Christian. I did not want to lose the essence of my faith nor did I want the other person to feel like they were losing their theological uniqueness. I did not want to be talked into joining another religion and leave my own church.
Today, as I look back, I have to laugh at that fear, however at the time the fear felt very real to me. It paralyzed me from participating freely, especially when I found myself in a situation where others were trying to convert me and prove to me that Christian Science was wrong.
In a weekly Bible Lesson-Sermon, I read the powerful statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures where Eddy states “Right motives give pinions to thought, and strength and freedom to speech and action.” Page 454. My actions were governed by my “right motives”. Then what were my motives? In the very same Lesson-Sermon came my answer. “…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33 KJV)."
Click here for other translations of Matthew 6:33.
Since then, I felt my “right motives” were to seek the kingdom of God in all of the world’s religions—their teachings and practices. This gave me confidence and solidified my own understanding, thereby allowing me to share more freely with others.
Later that evening, I looked up the website and enjoyed reading more about the House of One project. I also found that The Christian Science Monitor had written a story about it back in September 2014.
In my experience, I must be mindful of fear attempting to paralyze me in my interfaith engagement. Please share your own stories with us, we would love to have them shared with everyone.
By Susan Humble
I must admit that there are times when I am in conversations with others about religion or religious issues that I feel inadequate to explain what I understand to be a Christian Science perspective. When I feel this way, without a doubt, my primary go-to resources are the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy.
There is a short document that I discovered on the Christian Science.com web site in the Circle of Faith section under Member Resources that I find to be a valuable resource. It is entitled A Self-Understanding of Christian Science. Shirley Paulson, Committee for Ecumenical Affairs for The First Church of Christ, Scientist, spearheaded a small team of Christian Scientists who spent about 18 months praying and writing this document in order to succinctly cover important points that arise in ecumenical discussions. As Shirley describes, “our goal was to write a concise statement of self (Christian Science)-understanding to give people a clear explanation of who we are and how we address some of the myths and misunderstandings going on out there.”
The document’s first section is entitled, a “Basic History and How the Christian Science Movement has Evolved.” What I found particularly useful in this section are ways to share what our church is engaged in to support both Christian Scientists as well as members of other denominations. In ecumenical terms, our ministry both within and outside of our church.
The next section tackles different doctrinal topics, including the six tenets of Christian Science, incarnation, Jesus and Christ, the trinity, atonement, sacrament, death and resurrection, and healing. Not only are the explanations for each of these topics very concise, being only a paragraph each, but they include well-selected statements by Mrs. Eddy and the Bible. The exception is the discussion on healing, which is discussed in greater length.
The final section is entitled, “Christian Science and the Ecumenical Movement.” This section includes a summary of the background of our Church’s and members’ ecumenical involvement. I found this statement particularly compelling: “Seeking healing from a long history of primarily negative press and gross distortion of Christian Science in textbooks and public sermons, it is a welcome sign of the times that Christian Science is invited to participate in ecumenical dialogue and in relations with other religions and faith traditions” (pg. 7). Even in the short time that I have served on the ecumenical team, I have witnessed steps of progress in people’s interest in learning more about Christian Science.
Why is this a valuable resource? Take a few minutes to read this jewel and discover the answer for yourself. For me, the Self-Understanding document provides clear explanations of ideas to share in conversations.
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)
- Michael Kinnamon talks about the meaning of ecumenical dialogue (video)
- Discussion with Michael Kinnamon about Christian Science in ecumenical dialogue
Responding to common questions
Ecumenical activities for you!
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)