As many people know, I have been training part-time towards ordination as an interfaith minister with the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation. I’ve long been both religious and spiritual, and had several experiences in 2008 that motivated me to want to seek some form of ministry to people of all faiths and none, and coincidentally, at the same time was introduced to the Interfaith Seminary (as it was known then) – and I don’t really believe in coincidences.
We had our end of first year retreat this weekend, a weekend of reflection, meditation, and for me, a trip to a swimming pool for the first time in eight years. The culmination was the ceremony on the last night when the Faculty presented us with small stoles (the thing around my neck in the photo) to symbolise our achievement at the end of the first year. The course is self-contained, so you can complete the first year in its own right without wanting to go on. I have every intention of doing so, but it was still a powerful and moving moment to recognise the milestone reached. It made everything very real.
This year has been about personal inquiry and the study of different faith paths – the second year in the run-up to ordination is all about developing the practical skills of being a minister – designing and performing ceremonies (baby namings, weddings, funerals, but also healing ceremonies, rites of passage, milestones, etc.), spiritual counselling, and some more personal development. It’s not expected that every minister is going to use all the skills, but that they can draw on what they need to perform their chosen role.
My first year has been a blast, and has driven me to look at my life and relationships and appreciate more the people who make me happy and properly let go of the people who don’t. My friends have commented that I seem more cheerful and chilled out this year, which I think is a practical benefit of the spiritual work I’ve been doing. I have a degree in Theology, so I learned less about the different faiths of the world than others, but even so, it was a good motivation to finally read texts like the Bhagavad Gita, and visit places of worship I hadn’t been before (the British Orthodox Church is fascinating), and properly sit down and answer some questions I had been pondering for a while.
(For example, why did Christianity take off the way it did? Huston Smith in his book The World’s Religions explains that the fundamental message of Christianity is the unconditional love of God, and that that is a transformative and life-changing revelation to people who aren’t loved. In antiquity, when love as a concept or aspiration was largely unknown for large sectors of the population who knew only slavery, hierarchy and a never-ending struggle for survival, such a message would have inspired a sense of excitement and freedom that many of us couldn’t possibly understand. This is perhaps why Christianity is again predominantly spreading in poor, harsh communities in Africa and South East Asia at the moment.)
Despite this, the course has, at times, been a challenge for the skeptic within me to tolerate. I have a deep and abiding hatred of homeopathy (and indeed, for all “alternative” medicine that’s “alternative” because there is no evidential basis for its effectiveness), there’s been a lot of tongue-holding when my colleagues start going on about it in the tea breaks. It has been frustrating for me a practicing Jew to hear some denigrate all religion as a hindrance to deeper truths and I wish that more people from particular faiths would feel called to this kind of training. But ultimately, the point of being spiritual, to use a Quaker phrase, is to see “that of God in everyone”, and to find the meaningful element of everything, no matter how esoteric it might seem sometimes.
So, this time next year, if all goes well, I should be a qualified minister, which, now I’m writing those words down, seems incredibly serious and scary. Clearly I’m going to have to examine what that fear is saying to me, and what lessons I can learn with Spirit to harness the energy within me to…
To next year. :)
(Incidentally, the student ministers in the year above me have their ordination ceremony this Saturday, and it’s open to the public if you are interested in finding out more.)