I stumbled across this Christian Century article (roundabout through Tim Challies) about chapel at Harvard Divinity, which began with Unitarian leanings but has transitioned into what is now essentially a multi-faith religious studies graduate program. The article describes their approach to shared worship practices at the divinity school chapel:
These days our community worship is led by one of the religious communities in our school. We begin with brief opening words (our beloved Protestant forms persist!) and a lifting up of the prayers, hopes and longings collected in a notebook at the door of the chapel. Then we enter into the practice of a particular religious community, joining in where we can, maintaining a respectful presence where we feel we cannot. Each week, as the distinctiveness of each tradition becomes visible, we can see more clearly the differences between our ritual practices, our holy books, our music and our conceptions of the divine, and we see the family resemblances, the shared concerns—what Thomas Merton called the “wider oikoumene” of the human family.
I’ve spent some time working/ministering in an intentionally diverse interfaith environment, so this article (and some of the responses it’s provoked) was interesting. A few thoughts come to mind:
(1) Interfaith worship is different from interfaith dialogue. Personally, interfaith worship raises more questions in my mind than interfaith dialogue (which I think is really, really important).
(2) We should appreciate the diversity in approaches to religious/ministerial education. A multi-faith religious studies program (like Harvard) should be differentiated from an inter/multi-faith ministerial training program (like Claremont and GTU) from a inter-denominational school (like Fuller) from a denominational school (like Princeton or Bethel) from a church- or para-church-based program (internships, residencies, coaching/mentoring programs, etc.).
We live in a big world, and it’s important to understand different traditions (whether within our own religious tradition or outside of it). We live in a big world, and it’s okay that different people have different approaches. I don’t think every minister should study in an interfaith educational setting, but I do think that it’s important to have encounters with people of other faiths as you go about training and preparing for ministry.
(3) Inter/multi-faith experiences/encounters can often be uncomfortable and disturbing. Some of my interfaith experiences have been unpleasant and uncomfortable (in a negative sense), but others have been really rewarding and educational. In both positive and negative encounters, I’ve come away with a renewed desire to better understand my own tradition, its theology and history. This is a good thing!
There it is – let me know what you think!
Any thoughts on theological/ministerial training in a diverse setting?
Any inter/multi-faith encounters that have been particularly good or especially bad?