Interfaith Worship

There are two approaches to interfaith worship: (1) avoid mentioning anything unique to his or her religion for fear of offending others. (2) Recognize that different religions are represented and each participant is encouraged to speak clearly and frankly from the perspective of and in the language of his or her own faith while respecting and listening to that of others. We have chosen the second approach which provides us opportunity to learn something about each other’s faith.

WORSHIP LITURGIES, HMA 1999 CONFERNECE

EMORY UNIVERSITY, ATLANTA GEORGIA

From the many interactions I have had with HMA members recently, I realize that many of us are still riding the post conference “high”. The conference in Nashville was filled with excellent information, formatted to encourage the exchange of ideas and also serve a crowd of attendees passionate about their ministries. It is a once a year opportunity to come together, face-to-face with those faith leaders who have inspired me and my health ministries practice through the years. Then there is the anticipation of meeting many new people, bringing fresh ideas, challenging us in innovative ways and sharing their inspiring stories of ministry.

When I think about the Health Ministries Association, Inc., and how it has played a significant role in the formation and growth of my practice, I think of two specific issues. First, the connection and support I have with HMA members across the nation. The second is how the mission and vision of HMA has provided an opportunity to be part of a national interfaith organization with a focus on “respect of the other”. I am not sure I would have had this without HMA.

At each HMA conference, interfaith worship is a part of the organization’s culture. It is not an easy task, but one that has helped us to grow and mature as an organization. Over the years HMA has had many unique approaches for accomplishing interfaith worship. The excerpt above from the Atlanta Conference in 1999 is an excellent example of this accomplishment. As an organization, HMA has remained committed togathering our faith-filled members in an inclusive, meaningful manner. The caring and love that is shown from an interfaith perspective for one another is nothing short of extraordinary. All of us experienced thatin Nashville from gathering together. I have learned so much over the past 15 years as an HMA member about practicing from an interfaith perspective. This year was no exception.

The question might be asked, “Why bother to learn about other people’s religions?” The most obvious answer would be that as we live in a world that seems to be getting smaller and smaller, it is important to understand the diverse beliefs and traditions that make up the world’s great tapestry of faiths. We who practice in health ministries are called to be present to each other, at the very core of where people integrate their faith and life experiences. It is imperative that each of us working in health ministries can sit with another person and listen to their story, from their faith practices, rituals and customs.

Several years ago, after reading a book review in a national publication I was drawn to read the The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian and A Jew – Three Women Search for Understanding. I was not disappointed. In an effort to respond to their children’s post 9/11 questions about world religions and faith, the three co-authors began meeting together for regular discussions. Their initial goal was to write a children’s book, emphasizing what their faiths had in common. As they explored the roots and rituals of each other’s faiths, in turn each of them was also led to explore her faith more deeply than ever before.

This book presents a very honest interfaith dialogue. Tensions do arise, but clarity ensues, with respect for the other as a key component. This book draws you in, and you feel you are with them on their journey of discovery. It is a real look at the need for community, a sense of God’s guiding hand and true safety in the caring presence of each woman. And in their exploration I learned as much about my own religion as I did about theirs.

That has been my experience with HMA, and I am fortunate to be a part of this interfaith organization. It is a good thing to have your thoughts challenged and strengthened. It is good to strive to understand others, to know your understanding does not require agreement on all points. Faith calls us to respect and live peacefully with each other. That is my hope for each of you, for HMA and for our world.