An Episcopalian Priest: Half My Congregation Practices Buddhist Meditation

An Episcopalian Priest: Half My Congregation Practices Buddhist Meditation August 8, 2022

About five years ago, I met an Episcopalian priest for coffee. I was a newly ordained Interfaith Minister back then, curious to learn more about the world’s religions. I couldn’t think of a better way than to meet people of all faiths in person, especially because lived religion tends to be different from what I’ve read in books.

She asked me to meet her at a cozy Summer Moon cafe in south Austin. We talked about ministry, the state of religion, interfaith efforts, and our personal stories. About halfway through the conversation, the topic of interspirituality came up.

Startling Confession

I told her how I understood the difference between interfaith and interspirituality; that one was meant to improve relations between faith groups, whereas the other was for a select few who wanted to explore their spirituality through two or more of the wisdom traditions.

Then she made a startling confession.

“You don’t have to tell me about interspirituality,” she said with a smile. “Half my congregation practices Buddhist meditation.”

How Did She Feel About That?

Half her congregation?

How did she feel about that?

She told me that she’d initially felt threatened, but after months of observation, she had begun to embrace the idea. It seemed that the people practicing meditation were also putting more effort into practicing their Christian values. She’d spoken with a few of them, and they didn’t feel conflicted.

What About Christian Meditation?

I followed up by asking if she’d done any research on Christian meditation and told her about my favorite book on the topic called Moment of Christ by John Main.

She’d done a little snooping around, but not enough to start sharing any of it with her congregation.

“I don’t know if they’ll be willing to switch practices,” she told me. “From what I’ve been able to garner, Buddhist meditation is about cultivating a peaceful mind whereas Christian meditation is about fixing your attention on God.”

Having researched the matter a little bit, I told her that the Christian approaches varied but that she was largely correct in her assessment.

The Story Stayed With Me

We finished our coffee and went our separate ways. I never followed up on our conversation, so I don’t know what happened, but the story stayed with me.

It was evident that the Buddhist meditation fulfilled a need that the Episcopalian Church had failed to meet. In an era of stress and anxiety, it is natural for people to gravitate toward practices that offer peace and quiet. I know that from my own yoga practice.

The most revealing part of her story was that none of the congregants felt that one practice threatened the other. The Buddhist meditation offered moments of peace. Their Christian tradition offered community, compassion, and much more.

They weren’t torn between the two.

That, in and of itself, was interesting and worth more contemplation, even some research.

Supplemental Interspirituality

My interaction with the Episcopalian priest and her husband offered me another insight. While interspirituality as a path of its own is rare, supplemental interspirituality is much more common than I realized. People may belong to one tradition, but if they feel that some of their spiritual needs are not being met, they are likely to look elsewhere for supplemental ideas and practices.

It’s a fact. We live in an era where we have access to all of the world’s wisdom traditions, including their scriptures and practices. Keeping a tradition pure will become harder and harder (unless done with force). That is why I think that most religious leaders need to start thinking about ways to allow ideas and practices from different traditions to coexist.

Gudjon Bergmann

Author, Coach, and Columnist

Picture: CC0 License

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