January 31, 2014
After worshipping at an AME service in Jamaica Plain last Sunday, my son said it felt just like the Shabbat service we’d attended the previous Friday evening. That wasn’t exactly the reaction I expected…Through the encouragement of his pastor, our son and his fellow confirmands have been exploring other faith traditions. He asked a Jewish classmate and friend if he could accompany him to a service at his synagogue, which led to an invitation for our family to join the friend’s family for Shabbat dinner at their home and then to their service. Two days later the entire confirmation class worshipped with the Bethel AME congregation near Boston. From my perspective the two services were quite different, so I pressed my son for more explanation of the connections he made. He very thoughtfully pointed out that each gathered community of faith spent time in prayer for one another’s sorrows and joys, and seemed to know the rhythms and rituals of the service without much direction, especially the songs…which were known by heart and sung repeatedly until they seemed to collectively decide it was enough. Yep, he’s right, they were indeed very much alike. And, not unlike our own expressions of faith.
This month has been rich and full of opportunities for me to participate in a variety of faith traditions, as I’ve traveled throughout New England celebrating Christian Unity, ecumenism, and MLKs dream. From Armenian Christmas and water blessing to being blessed by Cardinal O’Malley in Sudbury UMC, to sharing Shabbat with new neighbors and hand-clapping in praise with our AME brothers and sisters…I have shared in the wonderfully diverse ways that God’s sons and daughters worship, practice their faith, and care for one another in community. There were wonderful new (to me) expressions of faith that filled me with inspiration, as well as plenty of moments which felt like home and made my heart glad for our connections. And there was also within me a longing for more connection…and a sadness at the brokenness, discord, and division that led to these diverse groupings of people of faith.
My weekend ended with a trip to see the IMAX film “Jerusalem” at the Museum of Science in Boston. I wanted to see it before traveling to Israel next week. The National Geographic film is narrated by three young women: Jewish, Christian and Muslim residents of Jerusalem. Each one share’s her appreciation for the culture and traditions of her faith and hometown…different, yet strikingly familiar. These three young women are neighbors yet strangers, living parallel but separate lives in the close quarters of the city which is central to their identity and faith. I left grateful for the opportunities that my son has to share in fellowship with his peers of other faith traditions, and for all of us in this country to worship, work, play, fellowship, and learn from one another.
I hope you will take time to know the people in your community…people of different faiths, and those with no faith tradition…to hear their stories, to break bread, to consider their challenges and celebrate their gifts, so together we can build strong relationships with our neighbors wherever we live.
This Sunday, 50 New England United Methodists will travel to Jerusalem for a spiritual pilgrimage led by Bishops Sudarshana Devadhar and Violet Fisher. We ask for your prayers as we explore the roots of our own faith tradition on this amazing journey.