Today is a day of celebration and reflection. If, by chance, you were paying attention to the words of choir anthem, you might have been puzzled. It was all about starting a journey.
“Our journey starts with the first step, oh may be all step boldly. And may our feet glide light upon the road, in life’s surprise unfolding.”
And yet today we are celebrating and reflecting on our two years together.
So, has the choir director lost it? … Hopefully not. The point is that every end is also a beginning. The journey of our second year ends today, but that also means that we begin our first step towards our third year together today as well. So, when we chat over our coffee and fair traded chocolate walnut pie during the social time, I hope we will not only be celebrating our second anniversary, but also anticipating our third.
There’s a saying I’m fond of because I believe it holds much truth. I think it may be a Jewish saying. Then again, it may not. I heard it when I was very young. Looking forward is important – crucial. If we only look back, we can become prisoners of the past. And no, that’s not the saying I’m referring to! But if we only look forward, we lose our bearings, our balance. Hence the saying, “To know where we are going, we must know from whence we have come.” So, before moving forward today let’s look back.
Our first year together was framed by two questions – questions that each of us held deeply in our hearts if not always in our minds.
The first question was a tad existential, but huge. We’re a new church, but what kind of a church are we? What kind of a community do we seek to form?
The who we are, was and is still revolutionary. We look at Interfaith as a faith. We may, and do, walk differing spiritual paths, and we not only acknowledge, but celebrate the differences. Perhaps more importantly, we ascribe no hierarchy to these paths. We see Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Baha’ism, Judaism, Humanism and all of our other spiritual paths not as ends but as guides to the compassion, love and community that all of them call us to live. Some paths are more helpful for one, and other paths more helpful for others. Interfaith, as a faith, says the crucial question is not the path you walk, but how you walk your path. Interfaith, as a faith, says if your walking the path of Christianity helps you to live a life of love, compassion and community it is a righteous path. As are all other paths, if they help you to live a life of love, compassion and community. And neither Christianity nor any other path is righteous if it leads you to a life of bigotry, hatefulness, violence or isolation.
We came together, not to convert or to convince, but to share – to learn about each other and from each other. And we have. We sought and seek to build a community based on mutual respect, not mere “tolerance,” but respect; where we celebrate our diversity as we build a life of compassion, and engagement in our community. And again, I think we have.
The second question we faced that first year was more immediate – and a bit scary. The question was: Will we make it into a second year?
That first year, sometimes there were three or four of us at a service; and sometimes as many as ten or even twelve. And every time there were just a few, I think all of us, and I include myself, wondered, will we survive?
By the end of that first year we were growing – not hugely, but growing. Our low numbers became six or seven, and frequently as many as fifteen were here. By the middle of this our second year, our low numbers were ten or twelve, sometimes as many as twenty-five to thirty were here. And for me just as crucially, we were involved in our community.
We raised seven hundred pounds of food for the food bank. Several of us volunteered time for the food bank. And most of us walked in the CROP hunger walk, not only to raise money to fight hunger, but also to raise awareness of the issue of hunger.
So we knew there would be a second year. But now what? Now that we knew that we actually had a community, small but very real, what would be our next steps?
We have a group we call the Helping Hands. Anyone is welcome to join. The group meets more or less monthly and is made up of people committed to Living Interfaith. You may or may not know that we made the decision early on to move ahead by consensus, rather than simply take votes. We’ve been doing it for two years now. And, contrary to the divisions and acrimony that plague our culture, we found that working together actually builds community. And working by consensus demands that we, oh my gosh, actually listen to one another. This year, working by consensus, the Helping Hands not only kept Living Interfaith going, but fashioned our Mission Statement, our Vision Statement, and our Bylaws. If you are not familiar with them, they are all online, on our website. Click on “Church Foundations” and you’ll find them, as well as the basic document we started with when we first began: our Covenant and Six Fundamental Assumptions.
I urge you to share these with anyone interested, who might ask, “What IS that Interfaith church about?” They, along with a small mountain of other paperwork, were submitted to the IRS and Living Interfaith was given 501 (c) (3) or charitable status, backdated, by the IRS, to 2009.
Once we had all our documents in order, those of us who wished signed a membership book. We have members. For those who have been coming for a while now and are not members, you are welcome. You are always welcome. No one ever need be a “member” to come to services or to participate in Living Interfaith events. But if you’d like to become a member, talk to me. We’ll have at least one if not two ingatherings of new members in our new year.
In the meantime, if you’re curious, we have a small book available with all of our Orders of Service and service themes for our first two years. It’s kind of fun to look back.
As for me, as you know, my book was published in late April. It has been well received and, he says modestly, after only two months it’s about to have it’s second printing.
So we have established who we are, and set some strong foundations. I like gardens as metaphors. As a garden, we’ve prepared good, fertile ground and planted our seeds. Now, on to year three.
I need to confess, I’ve never had a crystal ball worth a darn. So in point of truth, I have no idea what will happen in year three. But I do have some hopes and some thoughts that I’d like to share.
I think we will continue to grow. Not hugely. Not exponentially – which, selfishly, I am grateful for. I have no interest in leading a mega-church, and frankly I don’t think we’re in any danger of that. But I do think we are poised to grow.
Our second year particularly was process oriented. Mission Statements and the like. Necessary and important stuff, but my hope now is that we can refocus away from the minutiae of creating foundational documents and get back into the community. There will be a CROP walk again this year. I hope we will participate. And I hope we’ll find other ways to be involved in our community.
I’d also like to see more opportunities for Interfaith discussion. One opportunity is coming up, on Friday, August 3rd, some of us will be fasting all day to honor the Muslim holy days of Ramadan, and then gathering at my house, first to discuss Ramadan and then to break the fast. If you will commit to the fast, you are welcome to join.
Another opportunity will be our first annual Living Interfaith retreat, on Saturday, August 25th – a time to get to know each other a little better, but also a time to contemplate what’s working well for us, and what could be working better.
One of the things I learned while travelling all over the U.S.and parts of Canadain May is how much interest there is in this little church.
Not everyone, and let’s not make that mistake, not everyone, but a larger number of people than you might have guessed are looking to us and saying, “Wow. It can be done. People of differing spiritual paths can come together, regularly, in spiritual communion and share who they are safely, without throwing stones, and without trying to determine whose path is ‘right.’” Every time we come together, we embody this great ideal. Simply, or perhaps not so simply, by living our Interfaith, we are a model for the kind of world that can be.
When I was interviewed on Voice of America, this was the question the interviewer, who loved what she was hearing but still had her doubts, kept asking me. “Can it happen? Can it truly happen? Can it work?” And the answer is: Yes! Yes!
So let us look forward to our third year and all that it will bring. Realizing that from time to time we’ll make mistakes and need course corrections, let us also realize that we are on the cutting edge of something new: a way of living that does not demand conformity of doctrine, a way of living that celebrates our common humanity even as it celebrates our incredible diversity, a way of Living Interfaith.