In their ecumenical tradition, Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls continues to look for ways to build connections within the Christian denominations and also between different religious faiths. A federated church, Trinity is comprised of four denominations – United Church of Christ, American Baptist, United Methodist and Episcopal Church – so it wasn’t surprising when they reached out to an additional faith organization, the Shelburne Falls Shambhala Center, to explore Buddhist teachings. A number of years ago Trinity Church held a World Religions forum so this new venture seemed like a good way to revisit those connections.
“Buddhism and Christianity are quite different faiths and yet have much in common,” explained Trinity’s pastor, Rev. Marguerite Sheehan. “Both religions include inspirational, devotional, and scriptural teachings and practices (i.e. prayer, meditation, contemplation) that help us delve into these teachings so that our own faith is truly rich and alive.”
According to the Center’s website, Shelburne Falls Shambhala Center’s vision is rooted in the principle that every human being has a fundamental nature of basic goodness. This nature can be developed in daily life so that it radiates out to family, friends, community and society.
As part of Trinity’s year-long church conversations about "Who is our neighbor?" and "What is God saying to us now in our time and place?" Trinity collaborated with the Center to show the film Jesus & Buddha: Practicing Across Traditions. The film showing drew out an overflow crowd of 100 people in this small rural town. A smaller interfaith conversation circle immediately followed the movie. [See Rev. Sheehan’s blog article about the origin of their “Who is our neighbor?” focus.] The third collaboration was an exploration of Christian and Buddhist sacred scripture and practices. All three events were held at Trinity Church.
“The message met my need to begin to understand what Christianity has in common with Buddhism,” said Laura, an attendee and Trinity Church member. “I was astounded by the numbers of people that showed up, for whatever reason.”
Laura added that the scripture discussion was a “good first attempt to get folks together who might want to delve deeper into the layers of commonality,” though she found it hard to comment on a first attempt, other than to say it “felt good to have representation from varied lives and locations, and it was heartening to realize how relaxed that particular group was with discussing their own spiritual values."
In the days following the event, Sheehan heard from several people that couldn’t make the movie that they wished they could have attended, so she anticipates showing the film again. Also, many who did attend and joined the discussion seemed to want to continue the conversation. One attendee, named Deborah,commented that it “certainly seemed that many people were very hungry for more....more dialogue, more events, more community, more involvement with each other." As a result, Christians and Buddhists who wanted to learn about each other's sacred scriptures and spiritual practices, recently formed a core group and gathered again.
“One lesson we took away from the event is that the Buddhist groups, just like our Christian churches, rarely get together and this effort has increased goodwill within as well as between our faiths,” said Sheehan. ‘May all be one’ is taking on additional meanings in western Massachusetts.”
Lois, another moviegoer, said “It was an honor to meet with people of the Buddhist faith and learn more about their beliefs. It was a blessing to come together in harmony for exploration of our oneness. I discovered that we have a lot common.”
Rev. Marguerite Sheehan can be reached at the church office at (413) 625-2341, firstname.lastname@example.org, or see their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/trinitychurchshelburnefalls
Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane writes news articles for the SNEUCC website. She is also the editor of the Starting With Scripture newsletter. Contact her if: Your church has a great story to tell about an innovative ministry. You have a prayer request to ...