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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

A New Spiritual Journey: Discovering Interfaith Ministry

Dec 03, 2013 04:38PM ● By Beth Davis

 

by Beth Davis

 

For more than 15 years, the School of Sacred Ministries, an outreach program of Pebble Hill Interfaith Church of Doylestown, has been helping individuals create deeper meaning in their lives by offering one of the country’s most comprehensive interfaith programs for religious studies, professional development and spiritual transformation. In 1997, members of the Pebble Hill community recognized the need for a divinity school for individuals seeking to better understand the interfaith movement and for those seeking a high standard in interfaith education and ordination. In 2000, the School of Sacred Ministries ordained 26 men and women–its first class of students. Ever since, a new class of students has convened every three years. Beginning this January, the next group of students will begin a 27-month program culminating in ordination for those who feel called.

What is interfaith? Interfaith can simply be defined as “involving persons of different faith traditions.” However, it implies much more than a diverse gathering of people. Rev. Brian Weis, serving as administrator at the School of Sacred Ministries, says the idea is to build relationships between individuals of different backgrounds so that they may deliberately recognize their religious and cultural differences and come to understand and respect, but not necessarily always agree on, those differences. “We are paving the way for people to communicate and coexist peacefully,” he notes.

Over the course of more than two years, participants will study the world’s major religious, spiritual and wisdom traditions, experience the power of ritual and the beauty of celebration and learn all that it means to be a member of the interfaith clergy. According to Weis, the program offers the opportunity for students to explore their spirituality within a community of like-minded people; expand their awareness of other points of view, beliefs and traditions; learn how they can help others; and, if they choose, become an interfaith minister.

Students meet two Saturdays per month (with no classes in July and August), and enjoy in-depth study at quarterly weekend retreats. The Saturday classes combine lecture with group discussion and experiential learning, while the retreats offer more in-depth training and opportunities to enjoy contemplation, conversation and camaraderie with those traveling along the same journey. Two of the nine weekends focus on ritual and ceremony—what it means, the legal aspects (of a marriage ceremony, for instance) and the basic tools and outline to complete. Toward the end, each student presents a ritual.

“Our program is unique in that we are very heart-based and experiential,” explains Weis. “We are more about the experience and the instructors than we are academics.” With that in mind, students supplement their studies with reading and reflective writings of their own. The reflection papers help the participants process new information and examine, challenge and clarify their own belief systems. They contemplate how each topic resonated for them or what they’ve learned along the way.

In addition to regular classes, the program requires students to continue their investigation of other faith traditions by attending various religious services. They must also perform 120 hours of service work that reflects the interfaith mission. An advisor works closely with each student, guiding and supporting them throughout the process. Weis says many of the student advisors are graduates of the program and “fellow travelers.”

Orientation and initiation of the new class will be held Sunday, January 12, at Pebble Hill Interfaith Church, where each student may walk the labyrinth on the floor (if the student decides to become ordained, they will walk it one more time) and participates in a celebration.

For more information and to register, call 267-772-7301, email [email protected] or visit SchoolOfSacredMinistries.org.

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