What is Interfaith? – Cynthia Westby, Dir. of Religious Exploration for Children and Youth

Interfaith ministry is a hot topic these days in UU circles.  Starr King Seminary’s relationship with the Interfaith Chaplaincy Institute and support of double divinity degrees in UU and Interfaith is a powerful example of this keen gravitation to Interfaith.  Knowing I am going to be ordained as an Interfaith Minister many people have asked me what Interfaith means.  Great question!  It is a question each person who is drawn to Interfaith ministry or work will answer differently.  I wanted to give you my current answer, knowing that my understanding is in process and evolving just as all our understandings evolve over the big issues in life.

As part of my ordination process, I have been required to make site visits to attend services at different churches, mosques, temples and other religious and secular organizations.  Recently, I attended Shabbat services at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Capitol Hill.  The fact of my Interfaith focus was of great interest to congregants there.   Their senior rabbi and a minister of a local Methodist church had recently traded places and led each other’s services.  There was a strong feeling that Interfaith relationships are critical.  For them Interfaith meant having dialogue and supporting relationships between faiths.  The idea of these exchanges was very exciting to them because it was, they said, giving them an opportunity to come to know each other and find caring concern for each other’s lives and paths.  This is one avenue of Interfaith ministry.

For me, being an Interfaith Minister and being drawn to Interfaith ministry arises from finding meaning and insights in the myriad of faiths’ beliefs and practices.  All faiths have made rich contributions to humanity’s quest for answers to the big questions of “who are we?” “why are we here?” and “what matters?”  Each tradition’s stories, explorations, discoveries, spiritual practices and history can offer me guidance, insight, and support.  I am deeply grateful for the spiritual practices of meditation from Buddhism, for the potent stories from Judaism, and for the insights into the many facets of the Divine from Hinduism.  All of these have impacted my spirituality.

Interfaith is also about acceptance and awareness of all faiths. Each faith’s mystical traditions are, for me, particularly relevant, meaningful and inspirational. Interfaith is my perspective that each one of us experiences spirituality and/or religion differently; understands the Divine differently (if the Divine is part of our spiritual experience). None of us are right or wrong. We are all viewing spirituality through different lenses. Our cultural and personal history, for instance, creates within us, differences that may show up in our faiths. We can all learn, and be inspired and nurtured by other faiths’ belief and awareness of something beyond ourselves. The rich and varied big picture created by all humanity’s faiths and traditions is compelling. Allowing these faiths to stir us, to affect us, and to grapple with other beliefs and practices to come to better understand our own beliefs and practices is worthwhile. It helps me better discern and/or articulate my spirituality. The world is full of beautiful, meaningful, important spiritual ideas, and being in conversation with them, allowing their influences to impact us, allows our own faith to grow stronger and more fully realized. I am nurtured and supported by spiritual truths and practices from many different traditions. This is Interfaith, in this moment, for me.

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