When I was on internship, I had a sermon to push out during the Week of Christian Unity. I glanced at the familiar accompanying scripture (or so I thought) and placed a sticky note in the Bible to read John 17:1-26. I didn’t notice that Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers was an entire chapter, and 10 minutes later I had decided John’s gospel was not my favorite. The prayer for unity is a doozy, but that’s probably not a coincidence. To sum it up, Jesus prayed:
“…that they may all be one.” (John 17:21a)
Jesus surely knew it wouldn’t be an easy go out there in the world. We need each other. As houses of worship become increasingly countercultural, unity among our interfaith and ecumenical relationships are more important than ever.
Letting our theological details divide us is surely one of the great sins of the Christian churches. And our ignorance, bias, and fears of other faith traditions have created unnecessary walls between us when we should be working together for the good of all of God’s children.
So where to start with interdenominational relationships?
Your opportunities will surely depend on your geography and its diversity, but here are a few ways to be part of God’s family in a larger way.
Come together around service
Invite faith partners in your community to partner on projects that don’t require full theological agreement.
Feed the hungry together! Staff the local pantry with mixed groups of people from various churches.
Make your people available for refugee assistance.
Stuff backpacks with supplies for the schools.
Have a joint bake sale to raise funds for a local need or an international disaster.
Be a visible sign of unity in your community and invite others to join you.
Offer spiritual support
Does a local hospital have a spiritual caregivers association? Join it.
Some host topical dialogues or other interfaith opportunities to gather. (And if they happen to give religious leaders parking passes, don’t knock the perks.)
See your best buddy from seminary sitting in the back row? Wave hello then go sit by someone you don’t know while introducing yourself.
Find ways to be collegial
Multi-denominational text studies are great, but even better when paired with lunch, after which colleagues become friends. Or form a standing lunch every month and invite religious leaders from all faiths. Worried about customs around food? Make it a brown bag. (people bring their own lunches)
Want to really bond? Break a sweat
Get sweaty together. Form a rec league softball team (possibly bowling, basketball or darts) with other faith leaders. Imagine the possibilities for names – maybe “The Roman Jetherdists?” (That’s Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Lutheran. Try to keep up.)
Do a themed ecumenical round-robin preaching series during Lent, sending clergy to other participating churches of varied denominations. (Bonus: one sermon, six weeks. You do the math.)
Invite clergy from denominations or other faiths you don’t know much about to join you for an adult forum, they can share how they live out their faith. Offer to reciprocate. When faith leaders from other parts of the world are in your area, invite them into your community to learn more. Maybe the nations of the world will follow suit.
Notice the theme? Making personal connections.
It’s the answer to most of the problems we face in the world. It is hard to hate or bomb or steal sheep from people we have gotten to know as friends. Whether you are on the edge of the great prairie or in an urban setting, find ways to model unity, to be part of the answer to Christ’s prayer for unity – that we may be one.
Have any other tips on how to create an interdenominational community? Leave your ideas in the comments below!