Friday, June 17, 2011

Interreligious Worship--Finding a Faithful Way

As we continue our exploration of interreligious/interfaith worship, we turn to David Gambrell's reflections on the response developed by the Presbyterian Church USA to some of these questions, published as Respectful Presence: An Understanding of Interfaith Prayer and Celebration from a Reformed Christian Perspective (the link takes you to the full document and an accompanying study guide).

Gambrell sets up his reflections with the following questions: 
From questions about prayer in public places … to the dynamics of diverse neighborhoods … we live in a religiously complex and changing society. How do people of faith find faithful ways to navigate this strange and shifting land? Specifically, from a liturgical perspective, how do people of faith practice their faith in religiously plural contexts? Is it better to adopt a via negativa, wrapping our religious belief and identity in the comfortable ambiguity of “silent prayer or silent reflection”? Or should we boldly pour out our prayer and praise, even at the risk of flooding an already “oversaturated” religious landscape? If some combination of strategies is called for, how do we discern which approach might be appropriate for a given situation?
He then provides the following summary of the document, beginning with its definition of "respectful presence":
Respectful presence is ... “authentic attentiveness to the symbolic expressions of other religious communities” and “Christian willingness to offer witness in our liturgical expressions of the presence of God.” [It] “goes beyond mere tolerance,” and ... it “engages Christians in receiving as well as giving testimony to deep religious convictions and actions.” Within this carefully nuanced approach, there is room for participants to worship out of the integrity of their own tradition, simply to observe others engaged in worship, or perhaps even both, within the same event. (Quotes from Respectful Presence, 8.)
As Gambrell notes, 
the second part of the paper … delineates three broad scenarios in which interfaith prayer and celebration might take place:
when people of other faiths are present in Christian worship;
when Christians are present in worship activities of other faith communities;
when people of different faiths are together for interfaith prayer,          celebration, or worship. (Respectful Presence, 12.)
In each of these scenarios, Respectful Presence provides helpful and practical guidelines for ... (1) extending hospitality to people of other faith traditions, (2) being a respectful guest and an authentically Christian participant/observer, and (3) planning events with people of other religious traditions in the spirit of openness and mutuality. [From David Gambrell, "Finding a Faithful Way: Respectful Presence in Interfaith Celebration and Prayer," Liturgy 26.3 (July-September 2011): 46, 48-49.]
These last points are suggestive of a range of questions for every faith community: What does "hospitality" look like in our communities? What does it mean to be a "respectful guest" and "an authentically Christian participant/observer"? What does a "spirit of openness and mutuality" look like from the perspective of our Christian communities? Does it look the same from the perspective of other (non-Christian) faith communities? David Gambrell is an associate for worship in the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a candidate for the PhD in liturgical studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

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