“It goes almost without saying that we cannot afford ignorance—and the fears that go along with it—of traditions other than our own. The result of that viewpoint has been the catastrophic consequences with which we are all now living.”—Rev. Nettie
What is an Interfaith Minister?
Interfaith ministers are trained in the backgrounds and tenets of the major world religions as well as numerous other traditions; they regard all religious traditions with respect, and as pathways to divine experience.
People drawn to interfaith ministry have, in general, spent their lives exploring multiple spiritual pathways and have found beauty and value in all of them. Some who go to interfaith seminary hold ordinations from traditional religious seminaries, but seek to broaden their experience of the world’s religions.
By nature, interfaith ministry focuses on the inherent similarities of all major traditions, honors unity in diversity, and seeks to build bridges of understanding.
Interfaith ministry has an important and growing role in today’s society, particularly in serving the millions who “fall through the cracks”—those who yearn for spiritual experience and growth, but who don’t want the confines of one religious path; those who want to celebrate life-cycle events from a broad perspective; and those who enjoy exploring and appreciating the whole bouquet of spiritual wisdom that has been made so accessible to all by the changes in society and especially, through technology.
Who Seeks Out an Interfaith Minister?
People seek interfaith practices or counsel for different reasons.
More people than ever before classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” As Oprah observed a few years ago, we now have the first entire generation that has been raised “unchurched.”
While there are strongholds of traditional religions, young people under age 35 today stand a good chance of having been raised by parents whose affiliations were loose at best; who were disenchanted by all that religious intolerance and strictures stood for.
If nothing else, they have had access to constant exposure to the entire world on a daily basis for most of their lives.The borders, physical and doctrinal, that eld up the fences between faith traditions, have crumbled like the Berlin wall.
One example: Holi, an Indian festival celebrated in part by splashing people with colored powders, now has penetrated college campuses in a big way, just as the American tradition of Halloween and Trick or Treating is now found round the world.
The web and social media, in effect, have torn open the fences around religions. Access makes people less afraid, more likely to question, stirs the desire to participate, and seeds the realization that there are many pathways to God.
Even among those raised in a traditional manner, today’s Western world is full of people who have, for one reason or another, left the religious tradition of their birth, either because they didn’t relate to it, or because they felt drawn elsewhere, or because they simply wanted a broader sense of meaning than they could find in the religion of their youth.
At some point, many discover that they still want a spiritual life. That may express itself through trying a yoga class, attending a spiritual study group or seeking guidance on how to make that connection outside of traditional paths.
Some return to a traditional setting, whether or not it was the one in which they were raised. They may feel that participating in traditions that have lasted thousands of years grounds them in a way that looser practices do not. Others may keep a religious tradition, but then find themselves in love with someone from a completely different background.
Regardless of their spiritual underpinnings, religions come with traditions that become cultural expressions with or without the understanding of the underpinnings; from Christmas trees to menorahs to holiday or festival songs to special foods. Interfaith couples or those drawn to interfaith expressions usually end up incorporating the aspects they loved best about the traditions in which they were raised.
How I Came to Interfaith Ministry
My own call to Interfaith ministry came, as it did to so many in my entering seminary year, in the wake of 9/11. I had the opportunity to do some trauma counseling in a corporation that had lost 300 of its employees when the Towers came down. I’ll never forget talking to a young VP of Finance who was so traumatized that she hadn’t left her apartment for days.
In the course of our conversation I asked about her faith, which she had put on a back burner a long time ago. She had been intending just recently to find something she could relate to at this point in her life. Upon discovering she’d been raised Catholic I inquired as to her favorite saint. Within a short time, we had prayed together to the saint, and we had put together a way for her to access the spiritual strength to begin to move back into life in the face of this crisis, and still continue to explore her new expansion. I was not Catholic, and I was not yet a minister, but it was a powerful demonstration of how connecting someone with the thread of spiritual meaning for them discloses new spiritual worlds.
What has really drawn me to Interfaith work has simply been my appreciation of beauty; of the many faces of God expressed in an infinite variety of ways.