INTER-FAITH AMONG INTER-NEIGHBORS
by Kirby Lindsay
On Thanksgiving Eve (Wednesday, November 25) at 7:30 p.m. an interfaith service will take place at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church (PLRC) (7500 Greenwood Avenue North). “There is a difference between ecumenical and interfaith,” PRLC Lead Pastor, Paul Hoffman, wanted made clear. For many years the Christian churches ‘on the Ridge,’ and a few just off it, gathered together for ecumenical (among believers in Christ) services, including one on Thanksgiving eve.
Built On Relationships
Organizers felt called to take a leap, from ecumenical to interfaith, and they found reaching out easier than expected. As Pastor Hoffman explained, once they looked for them, relationships already existed among the different faiths. For instance, the organist at PRLC, Valerie Shields, plays also at Temple de Hirsch Sinai, on Capitol Hill.
So, in August of 2008, leaders from Masjid Umar Al Farooq (Mosque), Temple de Hirsch Sinai, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic, St. John United Lutheran, Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, Phinney Ridge Lutheran, Woodland Park Presbyterian and Woodland Park United Methodist sat down to plan an interfaith service.
“When we came together,” Pastor Hoffman explained, “it was the decision, very quickly, that we would not plan a service to which we would all doctrinally adhere.” Throw out the symbols, sacraments and prayers they don’t share, and very little remains. Instead, “we brought in the best of every tradition.”
The powerful, awe-inspiring service that resulted left one breathless with emotion. It began with two calls to worship - the blowing of the Shofar, of the Jewish tradition, and recitation of The Adhan, a call to prayer from the Muslim tradition. Christian hymns, readings from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and the Holy Qu’ran (translated in the program handout) as well as commentaries on the texts from three of the clergy/lay leaders followed.
Next, the congregation gave donations of non-perishable food and money to programs that serve people in need. Meanwhile, the ‘Combined Choir’ sang. Imagine trying to bring together, in harmony, Presbyterians, Muslims, Methodists, Lutherans, Jews, Catholics, and Buddhists. Now imagine trying to unite them in song. Yet, the all volunteer choir gathered an hour before the service and sang together beautifully – and attendees have been invited to do the same this year.
A Robust Celebration
Pastor Hoffman described the “really robust” service as “a time for friends and neighbors to come together and give thanks.” For as diverse as the theologies of these faith communities may be, the members all live and work in this area.
When, after the service, participants wandered downstairs to the community room for a social time, they found they had much to discuss. Sharing desserts and hors d’ouvres they’d brought along (with a card to identify ingredients for those with dietary restrictions) the gathering didn’t dwell on food. As Pastor Hoffman pointed out, it became a conversation about “making the world a smaller place, person by person.”
This year’s service will likely be much the same, down to the location, although “we will not have it here next year,” Pastor Hoffman insisted. The ecumenical service moved from church to church, and this gathering will as well, now that it is established. It won’t be easy to fit the large crowd - last year, Pastor Hoffman said, they had 564 attendees in a worship space that seats 563 – but after what they’ve already accomplished, could it really be difficult?
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.