Tonight I went to an interfaith service at my church, which was a joint service between the various faith groups in Marylebone, the part of London the church is in. This is an annual service which moves around the different faith groups each year, and this year we were hosting.
The service was an amazing experience, and one of the few times the interfaith label was accurate. Many times we use the word for all sorts of occasions- a service where we invite a representative from the local Jewish community along, a meeting where we talk with other Christians about how we are working to build links with the Mosque down the road, a service where we use prayers or songs from another faith tradition. What was so stunning about this evenings service was that this was no nod towards another type of worship, there was no token representative of ‘another faith’, because we were all there together. In some ways, I think it would be misleading to call it inclusive, because here it was no one’s responsibility to include or exclude, because we were all equal partners sharing in this act of worship.
The theme of the service was ‘singing our faiths’, a common thread to all the faiths, whether in song as we would think of it, or in sung prayers or chants. Lucy Winkett gave an interesting address in which she quoted Augustine who said that a person who sings prays twice! How true that is, I’ve often thought. Lucy also commented how one of the aspects of tonight was to find the common threads between us, one of which being the use of our breath, which is used differently in song than in speech. And, she said, perhaps how singing can mean praying twice!
Singing our faiths was an apt theme for a service hosted by the Methodists, and what better contribution from our church choir than a setting of Love Divine! The other faiths contributed song, prayer, chant and more. Particularly moving was the Buddhist contribution, a prayer for mind and body, with no other explanation or interpretation needed. With no distraction from words or attempting to understand, the chant carried me away from the chaos of life to another place, just for a short time. Beautiful, and much needed.
It also occurred to me, as I listened and watched the Buddhists and the Muslim call to prayer, how easy and natural the song was to them. We in our choir have rehearsed many hours, we have sheet music and a conductor to guide us, and will often get hung up on a note being too long or not loud enough at the right point. I learnt a lesson from my fellow singers, who without music or guidance, produced a wonderful sound, not so much because of its quality, but because it was sung in faith, and with meaning. I don’t think we Methodists can claim the monopoly on singing our faith!