Lynnwood’s Interfaith Church’s services celebrate all religions

LYNNWOOD — Living Interfaith Church is ordaining a first-of-its-kind spiritual experiment.

The Lynnwood congregation embraces many religions as a faith. Denominational lines dissipate as members share scripture from various spiritual paths, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Paganism and even secular texts.

The Rev. Steven Greenebaum considers interfaith his faith while Judaism remains his chosen spiritual path. Though there are other interfaith churches, Greenebaum said, Lynnwood’s is different. It goes beyond tolerance and respect for diversity.

“We are based on interfaith as a faith,” he said. “It’s about how you walk your path, not which path you’re walking.”

Greenebaum, 65, grew up Jewish.

“I’ve never felt Judaism was the answer,” he said. “It was just a good answer for me.”

He spent most of his career as a choral director at religious institutions, including Methodist and Unitarian churches as well as a Jewish temple. Several years ago, he was ordained as an interfaith minister and worked at a church in Seattle’s Ballard.

Still, Greenebaum longed for spiritual community that offered more. One where different beliefs were not judged as right or wrong but celebrated. His search ended when he created Living Interfaith Church 4 years ago.

“This is the kind of community that turns me on,” he said. “We have different spiritual paths, which are aimed at the same thing — love, harmony, peace.”

Greenebaum articulates his case for the inclusive religion in his 2012 book, “The Interfaith Alternative.” His ideas captured the attention of The New York Times last July.

The church transforms the Alderwood Middle School cafeteria into its sanctum on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. The makeshift altar is adorned with symbols of different religions, including a cross, the star of David and a Yin-Yang. Next to it, sits a table with candles, flowers and stones for people to place after sharing personal joys.

Members often attend another church dedicated to their specific spiritual path on off-Sundays.

“Nobody’s giving up their faith to live interfaith,” said Gloria Parker, who has attended Catholic, Baptist and Lutheran churches. “The only thing to give up is that there’s only one right way.”

The congregation of nearly 20 celebrates holidays and holy days from many religions. Services include Jewish, Baha’i, Christian, Humanist, Pagan, Buddhist and other practices.

The church only shies away from explaining another’s faith. Any tradition can be celebrated so long as someone of that spiritual background is sharing it.

“We experience all different faiths but you don’t ever have to settle on one,” said Patrick McKenna, who was raised Christian but now considers himself Pagan.

The congregation earlier this month observed world interfaith harmony week.

The United Nations in 2010 designated it for the first week in February. King Abdullah II of Jordan first proposed the worldwide celebration.

The week gives interfaith groups a chance to draw attention to their movement, which focuses on using common values to outweigh differences.

In Lynnwood, the church celebrated the culmination of the week on a recent Sunday. The congregation stood and sang a cappella while clapping their hands in rhythm. They exchanged hugs and circled up, holding hands in prayer.

During the service, members shared Hebrew scriptures from the Jewish tradition, Baha’i and Buddhist prayers, and an excerpt from a book quoting Chief Seattle.

McKenna read from “A Witches 10 Commandments.” The group then engaged in a joint meditation. They were instructed to close their eyes, breathe deeply and imagine harmony in their own lives and in the world.

“We cannot create a world of peace and harmony. But we all have the power to nudge it along,” Greenebaum told the congregation. “Harmony requires a balance of voices.”

Fear underlies difficulties in reconciling differences, he said.

Many remain ignorant of religions other than their own. People have long been afraid that there is only one right belief about God or the sacred, he said.

“This is a time tested method for building walls between us, real and imagined,” Greenbaum said.

Interfaith is not a spiritual smoothie, he said. It is sharing one’s faith rather than proclaiming a specific truth or convincing others to change their view. It embraces differences.

“We are an example that interfaith need not mean faith extinction,” Greenebaum said. “This is huge. It can change the world.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com.

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