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.)
Hi Sarah. I am just stopping by your website for the first time after doing a Google keyword search about “what it’s like to be an interfaith minister.” I mostly just wanted to say hi and let you know that I enjoyed your blog post! I hope your training is going well and that you continue to share your journey with the Internet, as it were. Take care!
Thanks very much, Ashley. :)
I was very interested to come across your blog and I wondered how things had developed and changed for you since ordination. How are you received by ministers of other/ singular faiths such as Baptist and C of E. Has there been any progress in permission to licence marriages for instance?
I hope you do not mind my asking as I am considering taking up the studies myself and wondered what happens after you are ordained?
The Government committed to changing the law on marriages to allow any designated celebrant to officially perform them without a registrar present, but what with Brexit happening, they haven’t made time for the legislation yet. The Humanist Association continues to press very hard for it. It will happen eventually
I am Jewish and so most of the clergy I come into contact with are Jewish, and they are generally interested but fairly detached, ministry works differently in Judaism and they don’t relate to what someone with Reverend before their name does for the most part. The Christian clergy I’ve met have been quite intrigued at the concept and we have stuff in common to talk about in terms of how to relate to people in their times of need and the challenges of When Stuff Goes Wrong at the Wedding etc., but at the end of the day all them them are engaged in pursuing careers in their religion and I’m not, so we’re not really the same.
After you are ordained, what happens is up to you. I don’t advertise any services as a minister, but all of my friends know and it is on this website etc., so I get sought out when people want a lifecycle ceremony or they’ve got a spiritual need they feel too secular to go to a church for. Other people in my class year now make a living running workshops, working as celebrants, some went on to hold positions in the Interfaith Foundation itself. A bunch of people went off and just continued with their regular careers, others reinvented themselves and moved to Findhorn etc. Interfaith ministry is there to be whatever you want it to be. :)