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Worshiping With People of Other Faiths
WORSHIPING WITH PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS
Recently I have had several requests for resources to use when people belonging to different faiths come together for worship. Such requests are becoming more frequent because institutions such as hospitals and universities are now providing prayer spaces for use by a wide range of religious traditions. I always respond by saying that I am unable to provide such resources because I cannot do the impossible. I’ll explain.
It is important to begin by clarifying terminology. Sometimes Christians from other traditions or ‘denominations’ are referred to as belonging to ‘another faith’. They do not. All Churches and ecclesial communities are part of the Christian faith. The word ‘faith’ refers to a specific system of religious beliefs, of which Christianity is one. The other great world faiths include Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Whilst it is not only possible but desirable for Christians to pray together regularly because they worship the one Triune God, it is meaningless for people from different world faiths to celebrate liturgy together since they do not pray to the same god and or use the same holy books in worship. To claim that all faiths should worship together ‘because we’re all the same anyway’ is a thoughtless and insensitive comment which demeans the central tenets of the various religions.
The world faiths are not ‘all the same’, but the differences that exist do not preclude their living and working together in harmony. There are certainly occasions when people of various faiths can and should come together to express their common humanity and shared values and their diverse spirituality.
Requests for ‘interfaith worship services’ are often made by civic leaders who are unaware of the problems of belief involved and more concerned about multicultural inclusiveness than about the religious aspects of these occasions.
The Australian Consultation on Liturgy (ACOL), a national ecumenical body representing the mainstream Christian Churches, issued Guidelines for Multi-faith Worship in 1995. The guidelines were produced at the request of the member Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, to help them make decisions about appropriate participation in multi-faith worship.
The Guidelines recommend that services of worship involving members of different faith communities be arranged as ‘multi-faith services in serial form’. This entails allocating each of the participating faith groups a separate segment of the service in which to offer its own worship. The term ‘multi-faith’ is used rather than ‘interfaith’ to indicate that participants are praying in one another’s presence but not praying simultaneously.
Each faith community selects and presents its own material for a brief worship service that is characteristic of its tradition. For example, Christians might use readings from scripture, Trinitarian prayer, and hymns.
A service which blends items from a variety of Christian and non-Christian sources is inappropriate because of the inherent dangers of syncretism - the thoughtless confusion of different faith traditions, and indifferentism - the downplaying, or even dismissal, of any real differences in belief and practice between various faith traditions.
It may be possible, however, for all to participate in expressing a common response or commitment, perhaps in the form of some ritual action at the conclusion of worship.
Discretion needs to be exercised when decisions are made about who will participate in the service. The worship segment of each faith group must be led by someone who is genuinely representative of and accepted by that particular group.
(The full text of the ACOL guidelines is available on The Liturgical Commission website under National Documents.)