We all have our own preferred faith but sometimes we venture out of our comfort area to participate or engage in others’ religious practices.
It could be a Wedding, a Baptism, a First Communion, Confirmation, Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, Bible studies, or engage in Witnessing. The common denominator is God. Each religion worships in their own way – what happens when you cross paths with some other religion?
Wikipedia defines “Ecumenism”, as initiatives aimed at greater religious unity or cooperation.
In its broadest sense, this unity or cooperation may refer to a worldwide religious unity by the advocation of a greater sense of shared spirituality across the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Most commonly, however, ecumenism is used in a more narrow meaning; “referring to a greater cooperation among different religious denominations”. These three faiths are all monotheistic: meaning the belief that there is one and only one God.
My own personal ecumenical experiences revolve around different faiths. I was born and raised in the Catholic faith and experienced the traditional Sacraments. I embrace this very beautiful religion which is centered around Jesus and the Eucharist, which has special meaning for me. In my formative years, when religious instruction was memorizing a Catechism to attain the Sacraments, I was blessed at age 9 to be invited to attend a Presbyterian Bible Summer School. Surprisingly, my parents agreed I could go and I was introduced to the additional concept that Jesus is my Best Friend, a concept that is with me to this day. We spent that summer singing lots of hymns to Jesus and making crafts with Him in mind. It was pure and natural to me. Children do not have built-in prejudices against the differences in their lives; they are taught them. Children are accepting and nonjudgmental.
When I was 13, we moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and I was introduced to bas mitzivahs, bat mitzvahs and the closely knit Jewish family. All members of the Jewish family participated during the readings at the temple. I found they were very much like our family. They believed in the Old Testament like we do, and were very religious. I experienced the Passover Seder and on sad occasions, gave condolences at Shiva. Did this confuse me? Not at all. Although I was entrenched in Christianity, I was experiencing the religion that My Best Friend, Jesus, embraced while on earth. It enlarged my religion by bringing me closer to Him. Now I experienced what He did and added His religious background to my faith.
In high school, a family member joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I always marveled at how they went from house to house witnessing their faith. They still do. The Bible calls us to do that, but not many people do it. There were differences from how the Witnesses practiced their faith from mine, but I did become more aware of their Bible studies and eventually attended Bible classes at my own church. I learned many Scripture passages that I never knew and became a student of the Bible. I am ever grateful for that awakening of Scriptures.
In my adult life, I have very dear friends who are Baptists. They are Bible-study enthusiasts, also. When we visit them, we attend their Sunday service with them – it usually encompasses most of the Sabbath Day. At their service, there is a choir that could sing in Carnegie Hall. They are praise-singing people of faith and I find joy and peace listening to their hymns. They even have video screens with lyrics in the church during service where you can sing along and the whole congregation joins in. We attend their Bible School immediately after the service and partake of their fellowship. They are faith sharing and caring people. I credit the Baptists for my love and joy of praise songs.
In my working days, a group of us were asked to give a career seminar to members of a Lutheran church. Before we started the seminar, we gathered in the church and had service. My other presenters were not faith-based persons and did not know the words of songs sung that I learned from my ‘ecumenical sharings .’ When they broke into “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”, I joined in loud and clear even though I have a Lucy Riccardo voice. After the church service, the church members hugged me and were surprised that I knew the song. That bonding moment was a successful vehicle to engage in seminar objectives – a shared faith feeling that overlapped into our discussions. And bonded new friendships.
I love ecumenical bridges. I find new paths and avenues from them to explore God and His Word. I find that although others may worship differently from me, we have many common threads in our tapestry of faith. Recently I learned that the Muslim faith honors only one woman in their Koran. That woman is Mary, the mother of Jesus. They devote a full chapter of their Koran to her.
I don’t seek the differences in these folks and their faiths; I seek the sameness we have in loving God, expressing that Love and sharing our different ways to live it.