A Gallup survey released in February 2015 showed that only 22% of residents in Massachusetts regularly attend religious services.
I often minister to the other 78%.
What does that mean?
As a minister, I believe that "God is love." (1 John 4.8) In over a decade as a Hospice chaplain, it became clear to me that at the end of life it’s not what you believe, what you owned, or even what you accomplished that matters most. What matters most is how you love.
As a Hospice chaplain, I learned the art of meeting people wherever they are on the spiritual journey. I discovered that the practice of being a witness - someone who sees, listens, and is present in love - can be offered to anyone no matter what their religious background. I discovered that at the end of a person’s life, what matters most is love - how the person loved and was loved during life. I observed that a person’s religious faith could sometimes contribute to living a life of love and sometimes detract from love, by creating fear and judgment. I also observed that no two Christians or Jews or Hindus necessarily believe and value the same parts of their traditions; that a person’s faith was not necessarily constitutive of certain beliefs or practices. I even discovered that two mature religious people from different traditions might actually have more in common that two less mature folks from the same tradition.
The best religious and spiritual practices help us grow as people who love - who are kind, compassionate, forgiving, and generous.
Sadly, many of our religious organizations seem to create distinctions -
"Our way is THE way." Thoughtful people know that there are MANY ways. As the Sufi poet Rumi so eloquently stated, "There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
Each of the great religious traditions have something to teach us about love and each of the great religious traditions have fallen short of their own teachings, something that those of us who live in Massachusetts and witnessed the scandal of sexual abuse of our children know all too well. I am fortunate to have Privilege of Call in the United Church of Christ, a religious body that welcomes people wherever they are on the spiritual journey and seeks to live "the love and justice of Jesus." (From the United Covenant of the new UCC MA/RI/CT Tri-Conference.)
In “Beyond Resistance,” United Church of Christ President Rev. John Dorhauer writes, “Postmodern Christianity is also post-Christian… it is a way of expressing a fundamental commitment to the way of Jesus without any need or desire to see that as the only way or the better way.” (p.111) He continues, “In its place will be a church filled with disciples of Jesus who walk in his way, and who do their best to be faithful practitioners of that they understand him to have been. They will be more comfortable with a seated Buddha on their desk or mantle than with a cross (have one on my desk). They will attend services at temple, synagogue, mosque, sweat lodge, and church. They will baptize those who find that meaningful...They will read from the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius, the Vedas, and many other spiritual texts. They will consult spiritual directors, life coaches, mentors, rabbis, imams, priests, shamans, and others who demonstrate a capacity to put them in touch with the sacred.”
That’s the world I live in.
When the opportunity arose for me to study at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City from 2009-2011, I was surprised to discover how learning about different traditions contributed to my practice as a Christian. For example, learning Buddhist Metta Meditation helped me respond more calmly and compassionately when in intensely stressful situations. I learned in a deep way how the practice of gratitude is common to all religious traditions, inviting me to make gratitude the foundation of my Christian spiritual life. Because of all that I have learned about other traditions and what is common to many traditions, I more deeply understand the interconnectedness of all people and creation. I am grateful for my experience of interfaith dialogue (which started when I was a chaplain at Wellesley College from 1994-2000) because it has made me a wiser and more compassionate person, Christian, and minister.
To learn more about Interfaith/Interspiritual Ministry, click this link from One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, where I am proud to teach and serve as a Second Year Dean!
To learn more about the United Church of Christ, click here.
Rev. Sue Koehler-Arsenault, M.Div.
ph. 978-325-2573 firstname.lastname@example.org
Serving Gloucester and Rockport, MA