I am a relative newcomer to the world of interfaith work, but the idea of involving myself in this area of practice has been with me for a long time. When I received my Third Degree initiation in the Oak, Ash, and Thorn Tradition of Wicca in 1996 my goal was to become active in interfaith work and start trying to build bridges of understanding with those of other religions. Unfortunately for my stated purposes the Gods had other ideas and within three months of my initiation I was running a brand new coven with eight students. My husband and I led Tangled Moon Coven for 12 years, finally stepping down in 2010.
In August 2011 we relocated to Huntsville, Alabama and I again began to feel a calling towards becoming involved in interfaith work. The first step was becoming a member of the Interfaith Mission Service, a group dedicated to addressing issues of social justice in our community such as racial equality, immigration reform, religious tolerance, and teen violence.
My husband and I were the first openly Pagan members the group had encountered, yet we were met with acceptance and even friendship. Over the time that we have been members of this organization we have engaged in many discussions with those of other faiths, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists trying to find areas of shared belief and also trying to correct misunderstandings that lead to fear and hatred between religious groups.
In February 2012, I began work at Huntsville Hospital as an interfaith Chaplain. From the beginning I was open about my religion and I was extremely fortunate that the Director of Pastoral Care was less concerned about what I believed and more concerned with how I could do the work. The vast majority of the pastoral care that I perform is done with patients and families in crisis. When I step into a room or meet with a family as the doctor gives them unhappy tidings, what is important is that I speak to what the family believes, and that I bring them spiritual comfort. My personal beliefs remain essentially off the table. So if I pray with a Christian family, I do so within a Christian framework. Likewise if I am working with a Buddhist or Hindu family I try to interact with them within their spiritual worldview. Becoming familiar with the beliefs and even scriptures of a wide variety of religions is a challenging task and one that I continue to work at every day.
Sadly, the greatest resistance that I have encountered in doing interfaith chaplaincy has not come from my fellow chaplains or even from the administration of the hospital. When I spoke of my work at a Pagan coffee here in Huntsville many of my fellow Pagans were appalled that I would even attempt to work with “those Christians”. Their minds were as closed to the idea of interfaith work as those of the very fundamentalists that they decried. I have attempted to open their eyes to the fact that people in distress are deserving of our support and love, even if they do not believe in the same way as do we. Are we not all children of the Divine, by whatever name we choose to call it?
During the two years that I have lived in Huntsville, I have also been involved in several efforts to provide education to the wider community on the beliefs and practices of modern Pagans.
We are fortunate here in Huntsville to have a wonderful lady named Kay Campbell who has produced an award-winning column in the local paper devoted to religion and spirituality. Kay has published interviews she did with me on two occasions. The first was done shortly after I arrived in Huntsville and was titled “Retired Combat Nurse Finds Divine in All Creation.” The second article, “Pagans Prepare to Celebrate Lammas” was done in 2012 as a way to show people a glimpse of Pagan practices.
Last December I was invited to take part in a yearly theology panel with one of our local Hospice groups addressing end-of-life issues from a Pagan perspective.
And most recently, I have been asked to address a theology class at Oakwood University, a Seventh Day Adventist institution. I am looking forward to having this opportunity to have a dialogue with young people who will eventually be going out into the world of ministry and hopefully to create a greater acceptance and tolerance of our differences in belief.
The world of interfaith work is a challenging one and one that is sometimes strewn with brambles and weeds. But it is a vital area, in my opinion, if we are to overcome the hate and fear that comes with lack of understanding. Over the centuries we have become really good at building walls to keep out the unknown, and this has led to much unhappiness. It is time that we stopped building walls and began to build bridges of understanding and tolerance with each other.