“We worship what we know”
A few years ago my faith community, Community of Christ, celebrated the 50th anniversary of our retreat center on Samish Island, north of Mount Vernon, WA. Samish Island Campground is a center for intergenerational family camps, youth camps, fine arts and congregational retreats, weddings, family events, and more. Owned jointly by our members in Washington state and British Columbia, it has a long history of honoring American and Canadian culture. Because of the spiritual and fellowship experiences we’ve shared together over many years, we often refer to Samish Island Campground as our “sacred ground.”
From the beginning, our community respected the burial grounds of a Samish chief overlooking the bluff within our property, but our contact with Samish tribal members was limited. We’ve rented our grounds to a wide diversity of people, including Zen Buddhist groups, water colorists, elementary public-school students, adults with special needs, and even young children scarred severely by fire.
Planning our weekend commemoration, we knew that all these groups made our campground sacred, not just our own Christian community. We wanted everyone to come celebrate with us, culminating in an interfaith worship service. We wanted to create a sacred and welcoming space for all people and all religions (and no religion) that had loved and blessed our grounds. Unfortunately as the worship service planner and presider, I had no knowledge of Samish culture, little of indigenous spirituality, and even less experience with Buddhism. I didn’t know the representatives from each group or even the next-door neighbors to our campground. How could we bridge these gaps, honor each one, celebrate the spirit of the place, and acknowledge the divine in each other?
I need not have worried. The service opened with a haunting and thrilling welcoming song of the Samish people, sung by a Samish tribeswoman. Telling us about her tribe, she said how welcome she felt to see our chairs arranged in a circle, with the four cardinal points (north, south, east and west) to which Native people pray. (I had arranged them this way without any knowledge of this custom.) We sang adapted hymns so that verses could be sung authentically by all—songs praising the beauty and power of creation and the Creator. The Zen Buddhist representative showed us how to use a Buddhist prayer wheel, which they presented as a gift for permanent installation at Samish.
Like Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, we quickly bonded. Christian tradition identifies such unity as the work of the Holy Spirit. We shared openly and trustingly our faith traditions, values and spiritual ties to this place. We intimately connected as “We worship what we know” (John 4: 22b). Bridging our differences, we shared in the rich gifts each brought to this special nurturing place, going back countless generations. Many said this unifying interfaith service was a powerful spiritual highpoint for them.
Our beloved and blessed Samish Island: mountains, mudflats, sandy beaches, forests, clearings, blue herons, eagles, deer, rabbits, shellfish, tides, . . . and Living Water!
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Theme for the Day: RENUNCIATION
Genesis 11:31-12:4 God promises to make Abram a great nation and a blessing
Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd
Acts 10:9-20 “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”
John 4:25-28 Then the woman left her water jar
- Meeting Jesus demands that we leave behind our water jars, what are those water jars for us?
- What are the main difficulties that prevent us from doing so?
School Cycle of Prayer:
help us to learn from Jesus and the Samaritan
that the encounter with the other opens for us new horizons of grace.
Help us to break through our limits and embrace new challenges.
Help us to go beyond fear in following the call of your Son.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.