Different hymns, different tunes

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, has written a new book saying that there are differences in the world's major religions, that we cannot harmonize or homogenize them, and to try to do so is both naive and, very possibly, dangerous.

Here is an excerpt from The Boston Globe:

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true. This claim, which reaches back to “All Religions Are One” (1795) by the English poet, printmaker, and prophet William Blake, is as odd as it is intriguing. No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same. Capitalism and socialism are so self-evidently at odds that their differences hardly bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy. Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, both essentially the same and basically good.

This view resounds in the echo chamber of popular culture, not least on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, “Eat Pray Love,” where the world’s religions are described as rivers emptying into the ocean of God. Karen Armstrong, author of “A History of God,” has made a career out of emphasizing the commonalities of religion while eliding their differences. Even the Dalai Lama, who should know better, has gotten into the act, claiming that “all major religious traditions carry basically the same message....”

...This is a lovely sentiment but it is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.

The gods of Hinduism are not the same as the orishas of Yoruba religion or the immortals of Daoism. To pretend that they are is to refuse to take seriously the beliefs and practices of ordinary religious folk who for centuries have had no problem distinguishing the Nicene Creed of Christianity from the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism from the Shahadah of Islam. It is also to lose sight of the unique beauty of each of the world’s religions.

But this lumping of the world’s religions into one megareligion is not just false and condescending, it is also a threat. How can we make sense of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir if we pretend that Hinduism and Islam are one and the same? Or of the impasse in the Middle East, if we pretend that there are no fundamental disagreements between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam...?

What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world.

The title of his book says that "God is not one." More accurately, his point is that all religions are not fundamentally the same.

Read the rest here.

His book, God is Not One:  The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter may be found here.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

Interfaith Community Service Week in Allentown

Canon Maria Tjeltveit, rector of Mediator Allentown and Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer for the Diocese of Bethlehem, taped a section of the Nuestro Valle show that airs on Sundays at 8:00 p.m. on RCN TV4. She was on with Ismael Arcelay, Special Assistant to Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Head to the Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, and Pastor Pedro Torres, of the Iglesia De Dios, to discuss an upcoming Interfaith Community Service Week, April 25-May 2. The show will air on April 11, and will be rebroadcast on April 14 at 3:30 p.m. She appeared also on a Channel 69 news clip last week for the same event.

Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations

Bishop Paul has appointed the following members to the Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations: (See earlier post here.)

Rodney Conn (Diocesan Staff)
Lou Divis (Deacon)
Peter D’Angio (St. Luke’s, Scranton)
Daniel Gunn (St. Stephen’s, Wilkes-Barre)
Elizabeth Haynes (Christ, Stroudsburg)
Fred Mauger (Retired)
Mariclair Partee (Nativity, Bethlehem)
Lexa Shallcross (St. Margaret’s, Emmaus)
Maria Tjeltveit. chair (Mediator, Allentown)
Diana Marshall (diocesan liaison to Pennsylvania Council of Church and member of its Commission for Public Witness)
Norma Meyers (Mediator, Allentown)
Jon Rinnander (Trinity, Bethlehem)
Jerry Gaeta (Lutheran Ecumenical Member)

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18-25

Resources from Graymoor here. Suggestions from Canon Maria Tjeltveit below.

What are you doing for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25)? Here are some suggestions:
Although it is too late to get printed materials from the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, there are some good materials to download on their website www.geii.org/wpcu_index.htm including prayers of the people, sermon ideas, and information about this year’s theme, “You Are Witnesses of These Things.”

Continue reading "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18-25" »

Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations ... and Canon Maria Tjeltveit

Tjeltveit.Maria [From Bishop Paul] I am happy to announce that after a period of gathering for initial conversations, we once again have a Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. It is comprised of a good number of clergy and lay people from the north and the south of the DIocese. Because this work is so important and because she has put so much time and energy into the efforts so far, I have named the chair of the commission as Canon for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. I know you will want to congratulate the Reverend Canon Maria Tjeltveit on her appointment. Those who attend convention are already familiar with her reports and her dedicated work on the dialogue with the Moravians. One of the Commission's tasks is to keep us educated and motivated in these matters, so with you I look forward to hearing from them. Blessings, +Paul

When conferred upon clergy in the Episcopal Church, canon is commonly regarded as an honorific similar to monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church. The title is usually given in recognition of position, significant service or achievement. Canon Maria W. E. Tjeltveit has been rector of the Church of the Mediator, Allentown, since September 1, 1999. (Her first name is pronounced "Mariah" and her last name is pronounced "Chelt vate".) Maria is a member of the Moravian-Episcopal dialogue on the national level and is active in Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian dialogue. She is Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer for the Diocese of Bethlehem. She graduated from Swarthmore College and the Berkeley/Yale Divinity School. Before coming to Mediator, she served at St. Matthew'sChurch in Charleston, West Virginia; St Paul's Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia; and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Harrington Park, New Jersey. Maria, her husband Dr. Alan Tjeltveit, who is a Professor in Psychology at Muhlenberg College, and their children, William and Anna, live in Allentown.

Biggest, Boldest, Best Block Party Around

posted by Kat Lehman

Check out the Block Party "A Celebration of Gifts" this Saturday, September 19th from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. on Market Street between New and Center Streets in Bethlehem. Trinity, Bethlehem has been actively planning this event in conjunction with other churches, social agencies, community groups and the city government for about 8 months.

There are over 30 groups performing including the Bethlehem Bagpipe Band, Trinity's own Singing Priests, musicians and singers from Holy Infancy, Moravian Academy band and choirs, the O'Grady-Quinlan Academy of Irish Dance, storytelling by Mayor Callahan and MANY, MANY MORE! There are also games and crafts for kids plus food and lots of fun. What an awesome way to spend Saturday!

Come celebrate!!

Rental assistance in the Lehigh Valley

[From the E-Newsletter of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches]

At last there is help for the little guy! Federal stimulus dollars for rental assistance will arrive in the Lehigh Valley this fall to help ordinary individuals and families who are homeless or about to be homeless. Persons who can demonstrate the ability to maintain stability in housing given short-term or medium-term cash assistance with rent or utility payments but who otherwise would become homeless without such assistance qualify. This includes person in emergency shelters, on the street, transitional housing, and people in arrears in rent. Persons needing mortgage assistance are not applicable and should contact CACLV for mortgage assistance.

The City of Allentown is distributing $1,072,597 and the County of Lehigh $574,614 with the majority of the funds going directly to rental and utility assistance. The Lehigh County Conference of Churches is one of 6 entities to receive City dollars and one of 5 to receive County dollars. We are the only agency to receive rental assistance dollars for both Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing.

The Conference of Churches appreciates the trust the City and County are expressing in its ability to help people obtain housing. These dollars coupled with our regular allocation of County and FEMA rental assistance dollars will enable us to assist nearly double the number of people for the next three years or a projected average of 280 to 300/year. PLEASE NOTE FUNDS WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE UNTIL THE FALL!

Lessons from a celebrity conversion

By The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns

The public commotion over Father Alberto Cutie's entry into the Episcopal Church strained ecumenical relations between the Roman Catholic and Episcopal dioceses in southeast Florida because the switch was magnified by the celebrity of the convert.

While there have lots of times when clerics "swim the Tiber" in one direction or another, usually very little is made of it in the press by the churches. Not a written rule, but etiquette says "don't make a fuss."

Which made the story Cutie and his reception into the Episcopal Church followed by a press conference very unusual. An angry MIami Archbishop Favalora said unkind things about Episcopal Bishop Frade. But when Cutie was broadcasting on tv and radio and writing books as a Roman Catholic, Favalora and the rest of his diocese basked in the glow of his celebrity. When circumstances turned the other way, well, it did not feel so good.

Columnist Carl Hiassen, writing for the Miami Herald, made two observations. First, "The good news: He was with a woman, thank God, not an altar boy." And second, "For the Miami archdiocese, losing Father Cutie to the Episcopalians would be like the Yankees losing Derek Jeter to the Red Sox."  On the whole, he said, this is a scandal everyone can live with.

The difference in this matter seems to be celebrity of the convert. Daniel Burke writing for Religious News Service says:

With a star of Cutie's  magnitude—millions tuned in to his television and radio shows for relationship advice—media attention of his conversion was, perhaps, inevitable. Reporters from English and Spanish-language media crowded into Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami to witness the half-hour ceremony and subsequent press conference.

Miami’s Catholic Archbishop, John Favalora, Cutie’s former boss, was not pleased.

He blasted the new convert and his Episcopal counterpart, Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida, for breaking the unwritten rules of conversion: Advise the other bishop about your plans and don’t show up the other faith by making a public display....

Even Episcopalians say Favalora has a point. Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church’s point man for interfaith affairs, said Friday, “There’s no written rule, but it’s certainly been the informal understanding between all our ecumenical partners that it’s not something one seeks headlines about. It doesn’t help us ecumenically.”

There’s a delicate diplomacy to conversions, with long-established protocols to ensure that interfaith bridges that take decades to build are not burned in a single afternoon. Epting said the Episcopal Church’s ecumenical office, which is usually consulted on all conversions, was not informed about the ceremony ahead of time.

“I wish we had been consulted,” Epting said. “We will be pursuing this.”

On the other hand, when a person of such high profile makes such a change, it cannot be help but be done publicly. If he could not go to the beach with his girlfriend without being photographed by paparazzi, then it hard to imagine him being received without a press conference. So while the Roman Catholics complain about all the negative publicity--and cite the legitimate hurt Cutie's former congregants, most of whom have remained in their church, feel-- they may have hoisted on the celebrity they were anxious to create when "Father Oprah" was in their bullpen.

But there’s been plenty of traffic toward Rome too, said Monsignor William Stetson of the Office of Pastoral Provision, which was created by the late Pope John Paul II in 1980 to prepare former Episcopal priests for ministry in the Catholic Church. Four or five former Episcopal priests—including, recently, several bishops—convert to the Catholic Church each year, he said....

But none of those converts were celebrities. In a sense, Frade’s hands were tied by his new convert’s fame, said Jim Naughton, director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

“When (someone) joins the Episcopal Church, it would be silly to chase them away,” he said. “And in such unusual circumstances it’s very difficult to be critical of Bishop Frade because he has both a very vibrant and gifted priest, but also an atmosphere of controversy. Unless you’re from that community, I think it’s very hard to pass any judgment.”

We in Northeast Pennsylvania will simply note silently the publicity that emanated from a local Catholic diocese when a married Episcopal priest joined their ranks a few years back. Grumblings about that situation being a "man bites dog story" were put aside for the greater good. So we have some idea about how Favalora feels.

But here is a lesson that is unique to Cutie's switch: Sometimes publicity happens, and sometimes publicity is a tool used to send a message. If you groom a priest for the media, emphasizing his charm, charisma and, yes, his sex appeal (the ultimate Father Whatawaste) be ready for the publicity tide to change very quickly.

Read: Daniel Burke, Religious News Service: "Celebrity priest's conversion strains ecumenical ties ."

Also: Carl Hiaasen, Miami Herald: "Give the poor padre a break."

Noonday Lenten Series, Wednesdays at St. Stephen's Wilkes-Barre

[From Canon Mark Laubach]
I’m pleased to inform you about the 2009 Lenten Series here at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

Since the 1920’s, St. Stephen’s has hosted an annual series of weekly Lenten Services for the Community, led by clergy from participating Wilkes-Barre churches of various denominations, both Catholic and Protestant. Over the years, this series has grown in popularity and now includes organ recitals (at 11:30 a.m.) the service (at 12 p.m.), and a soup and sandwich lunch (immediately after the service) for $4.00 in the Auditorium of St. Stephen’s Parish House.

Our organ recitalists this year represent a splendid group of both local and regional performers. The list follows ….

Continue reading "Noonday Lenten Series, Wednesdays at St. Stephen's Wilkes-Barre" »

Northern Tier churches prepare Easter dinners for needy

Bountiful Blessings, representing the communities of faith in Montrose, has announced its annual program to provide a full Easter dinner for those in need in Susquehanna County. Individuals and families listed with Interfaith and other area agencies will be eligible for a dinner basket that includes a three or five-pound ham, vegetables, potatoes/macaroni and cheese, canned fruit, bread, and holiday candies. The baskets will be distributed on Wednesday, April 8.

BountifulBlessings Consortium2  

Consortium of Susquehanna churches and county agencies prepare for Easter dinner distribution on April 8. Bountiful Blessings is preparing for the fourth annual Easter Dinner for needy families and individuals in Susquehanna County.

Continue reading "Northern Tier churches prepare Easter dinners for needy " »

One in Christ? [Presentation at ECW annual meeting]

Tjeltveit.Maria2a What is Christian unity? What would it look like if we had it?  On Wednesday, May 13, The Rev. Maria Tjeltveit will explore these questions in her presentation, One in Christ? at the annual meeting of our diocesan Episcopal Church Women at Kirby House. Maria is rector of Mediator Allentown and serves the Diocese of Bethlehem as Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer. She will lead an exploration of the ecumenical movement, including dialogues on the national and international level as well as in our own parishes. This is an opportunity to learn and to share our experiences of working together and connecting with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus prayed that “they all may be one.” Come find out how we, as women and as members of the body of Christ, seek to live out Christ’s prayer.

Send reservation, $12, to Catherine Jeffery, 1839 Ulster Road, Allentown, by May 1. No reservations accepted after this deadline. Call Catherine at 610-868-6682

Continue reading "One in Christ? [Presentation at ECW annual meeting]" »

Ecumenical Work Week in New Orleans

Here Until theWork is Done

To mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the National Council of Churches’ Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast is sponsoring an Ecumenical Work Week, Aug. 19-25. The theme is Here Until the Work is Done: A Time for Ecumenical Worship, Witness & Work. Download information, including flyer and registration form below.

Download letter_about_ecumenical_work_weekfinal.pdf

Download FlyerFINAL.pdf

Download ecumenical_work_week_registration_form.pdf

Christian Gathering of NE PA

Dr. Thomas Ferguson, the Episcopal Church's associate deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations will present Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry: Are We Any Closer? at the May 24 Christian Gathering of Northeastern PA (an Ecumenical Dialogue Day) at Marywood University, Scranton, 9:00 to 3:30. The focus will be on the 1982 BEM document. (Download it from the World Council of Churches website.)

The Christian Gathering is sponsored by the RC Diocese of Scranton.

More information and a registration form may be downloaded below as a pdf or word file.

Download bem.Information&RegistrationForm.pdf

Download bem.Information&RegistrationForm.doc