Before moving to Toledo, I worked in Philadelphia as a chaplain in a hospital. When patients and their families asked about my religion, I usually said that I was there as an interfaith chaplain. My role was to provide comfort and help in a time of crisis, to minister to people of many faiths and no faith.
I gave spiritual and emotional support to Muslims, Hindus, Pentecostal Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Wiccans, and people of many other faiths different from mine, and to people with no religion. Our shared concern was health, and sometimes death. I helped to make a faith connection occasionally, and at other times the person-to-person tie was all that was needed. Faith labels were minor.
Last Sunday, as Blade religion editor, I took part in the annual banquet of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio. Having become accustomed to the term “interfaith,” I was interested to learn more about “multifaith.”
Judy Lee Trautman, who is co-chair of the MultiFaith Council board along with her husband, Woody Trautman, said, “We chose the name MultiFaith when we started this [in 2003] because at the time, locally, most of the interfaith groups were mostly Christian, occasionally with a Jewish representative as well, and we wanted to reach more broadly than that. So we used the term multifaith. We include here locally at least a dozen different faith traditions, and we wanted that.”
One other aspect of multifaith that I recognize is that the term includes the individual faith journey, recognizing that we can be multifaith in our lives. There are people born to Baptist parents who take their parents’ faith and live that way all their lives. Others, and I’m one, have their parents’ church as children, take another when older, maybe have a period of not being “churched,” and continue as faith seekers rather than finders throughout life.
Some find that more than one faith at the same time is what works for them. I provided pastoral care to more than one person who identified as both Buddhist and Roman Catholic.
And then there are people who have no faith but share the best practices of the spiritual — being together in community, living ethically, and advocating the golden rule, for example — and travel in companionship with faithful people. They belong in multifaith circles. Unfortunately, they were excluded from the interfaith service in Boston after the marathon bombings.
“What I’ve seen sitting on the North American Interfaith Network board,” Mrs. Trautman said, “is that as we reach out to young adults in particular, we’re finding secularists and atheists and agnostics and humanists who want to be part of our movement, and we don’t shut anyone away. Good old Woody, he’s going to be 93 in June, when he started this [MutliFaith Council], he said, ‘all faiths and none.’ He’s always had that approach.”
Finally, there’s one more term to put in this mix: civic faith. At the Boston interfaith service, Gov. Deval Patrick said, “America is not organized the way countries are usually organized. We are not organized around a common language or religion or even culture. We are organized around a handful of civic ideals. And we have defined those ideals, through time and through struggle, as equality, opportunity, freedom, and fair play.”
To have a healthy civic faith, may we all — whether inter, multi, or no faith — share our common ties, appreciate our differences, and live with compassion.