Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered in the beautiful Grand Hall at the Bushey Academy in Hertfordshire, where I and 29 of my student colleagues were ordained as Interfaith Ministers, and it was the most beautiful ceremony possible.
This came at the end of a week-long retreat which followed an exhausting but wonderful 2-year journey of spiritual exploration & inquiry.
Becoming an Interfaith Minister requires you to take both personal and public Vows. So, while our public vows, which are “to be inclusive, and to serve without discriminating on the basis of race, age, gender, religious affiliation, ethnic background, economic status, sexual orientation or any other distinction” were taken in the Grand Hall, our personal Vow was taken in a private ceremony during our week-long retreat. It took me months of meditation and contemplation to find what I really wanted to say, and I chose to say it in Auld Scots…
“A hecht that A’m ettlin tae gang ma gait wi open hert
A hecht tae serr God wi mense, aefauldly an wi respect
A hecht that A’ll aye ettle tae see masel in ithers an thaim in me
An A hecht tae leeve a meenistry that’s joco an blithe.”
Most of these words are probably unfamiliar, but there is one word that jumps out the page like a froghopper… God. 2 years ago if anyone had told me that I would be voluntarily making a public Vow to serve God, I would have loudly and firmly told you to “get tae Falkirk”. But that’s because I was brought up to believe that God was a man, or at least had the form of a man, who lived in a paradise called Heaven which seemed to be somewhere above the sky. But he wasn’t just an ordinary man. He was an all-powerful, omnipotent man, who could at any moment heal you or hurt you, save you or make you suffer. A man who worked in “mysterious ways” so that he could give a wee baby cancer or just stand by as thousands of innocent people were killed by hunger and famine, and you just had to accept that he knew what he was doing. It was all part of his “big plan”. And then there were the rules… most of which seemed to benefit men, and oppress women… and he gave power to other men (ministers, priests etc) to be custodians of these rules, and these men told children like me that God was always watching, and that if you misbehaved he would see you, and you would get punished in some way… maybe one of your family would become ill…. and that would be your fault, your punishment. Not only that but everything seemed to be a sin…..and you were warned that if you didn’t repent for all your sins you wouldn’t get into Heaven… but instead you would go to Hell (or maybe you would be lucky and would just go to purgatory and only have years of suffering instead of an eternity… yeah!) There was also the praying, and the fear of what would happen if you didn’t pray. So that if someone in your family was suffering illness or hardship, and didn’t get better, well you obviously didn’t pray hard enough. And don’t even get me started on ceremonies…. weddings where the ceremony is centred around God instead of the 2 people making the commitment, funerals where the person who has died is hardly even mentioned. Oh, and let’s not even get into the judgement around same-sex ceremonies. So, when I first signed up for the Interfaith training, and in fact throughout the whole of first year, it really got my hackles up whenever someone mentioned God.
But I did find God on my journey through this inquiry, and it has been the most wonderful discovery. Because what I discovered it that God is not a man… or a woman for that matter. God has no gender and no form. God is just God….an ever-present awareness, an energy that surrounds us and works through us. Something bigger than ourselves. A central symbol of meaning. Something mysterious and magical, powerful and good. I can and do believe in that God.
Moreover, when we stop to look at all the faiths that exist in the world today, we find that it is this central symbol of meaning that is at the heart of them all. And this is also what is at the heart of Interfaith Ministry, the idea that everyone who follows a faith path is just trying to connect with the God of their understanding.
But the biggest difference with Interfaith Ministry is that while most ministers will/can only support you if you follow and adhere to the teachings of their specific faith path, an Interfaith Minister stands up for and welcomes everybody.
No restrictions, no interference, no judgement…. just love.
And whoever you are, you are all very welcome ❤
And for anyone interested in the translation of my Vow, this is it…
“I pledge that it is my intention to walk my path with an open heart.
I pledge to serve God with integrity, responsibility and respect.
I pledge to always try to see myself in others and others in me.
And I pledge to live a ministry that is creative and wild.”