The religious life is framed by many different kinds of activities, but most typified by prayer (or its functional equivalent). Ironically, the most difficult experience for diverse religious communities to share is the one they have most in common. Because we approach God in such particular ways, the language we use is rarely inclusive of people from other traditions. We are quite familiar with the phenomenon as Jews, but a similar kind of discomfort afflicts adherents of different traditions in unfamiliar contexts – and even practitioners of different denominations of the same tradition.
Almost every interfaith organization in which I have participated faced this dilemma. How can we share our essence without compromising it, on the one hand, or alienating our guests, on the other?
A group in Chicago seems to have come up with an elegant solution, and the Alexandria Interfaith Association has initiated it here to celebrate our city’s 250th birthday, calling it “Welcome to Our Home.” Nine times in the coming year, a local faith community will open its regular worship service to the community. On that day, guests will be especially welcome and the service will include teaching elements about worship and practice. The leader will speak on the subject of a vision for the future, with special focus on children. A social gathering will follow.
Our turn to host a service will come in June, but we have been chosen to host the service which will initiate the endeavor as well. On Friday, January 21, our guest speaker will be Rev. Dale Seley of Downtown Baptist Church, who is the association’s president. Invitations to the service have gone out to all the members of the Interfaith Association, so there will likely be many pastors and priests present as well.
I am especially delighted that Rev. Seley will speak to us. He is a devoted Southern Baptist and has become a dear friend. It is his vision which has inspired these interfaith efforts, sometimes swimming against a strong tide. He is also a joy to hear – a preacher of talent and substance.
Each host congregation has committed to send a delegation to each of the other services. I invite each of you to sample one or more of these opportunities – they are printed below. And please come on January 21 to make our guests feel especially welcome to our home.