Should we pray together when people of different traditions are in the gathering? Is there a meaningful kind of prayer that can be shared by all present, or does any explicit form of prayer risk either excluding some in the group or being a reduction of prayer to the lowest common denominator?
I ran across an interesting reflection on this challenge in a rather unlikely place- at “Juicy Ecumenism,” a blog sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy. IRD describes itself as leading “the fight rallying Christians to champion biblical, historic Christianity and its role in democratic society, and to defeat revisionist challenges.” For the most part, I find myself disagreeing with most of IRD’s positions.
The writer, Faith McDonnell, describes her experience of Praying at an Interreligious Prayer Gathering in Arlington, Virginia. She describes her hesitation at being asked to represent the Mid-Atlantic Anglican Diocese (which severed relations with the Episcopal Church in the USA over the ECUSA’s perceived “liberal” policies) at an interreligious celebration of religious freedom convened by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Arlington.
What enabled this conservative Anglican to participate in a service led by two Buddhists, Catholics, a Lutheran, a Mormon, a Hindu, and a Muslim? The clear sense that nobody was being called on to compromise their own faith. The guidelines for leaders included stipulations that:
[O]ut of respect for the difference of one another’s faith . . . we do not pray together, but we gather to pray in one another’s presence, as respectful observers of one another’s spiritual heritage.
[P]rayer forms should not be interactive or prayed in common, yet sensitive to both the tradition and the spirit of prayer in both the one praying as well as those who are observing.
The celebration of religious freedom in this country is a celebration of our right to be different, as well as a call to be respectful of those whose religious traditions differ from our own. How do we find those ways to “pray in one another’s presence”?