OK, I'm experimental. This church, and this pastor, is not. Not unless you include hemlock drinking in the experimental category. Jesus didn't die to buy for Himself a bride who sleeps with other so-called gods. Read and weep...
Church to bring together 8 faiths in day of harmony
By Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter
Published September 29, 2006
In some ways, it was a traditional Baptist Sunday service. The pews creaked and groaned, and the congregation belted out a rousing rendition of "Down by the Riverside."But when parishioners pressed their palms together and bowed their heads, it was not only a greeting to God but a gassho greeting to their neighbors in the pews--a Buddhist rather than Baptist tradition.
Blending Buddhist philosophy with the Baptist faith is not uncommon at Lake Street Church in Evanston, where followers of eight religious traditions--Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Ethical Humanist--will converge Sunday to celebrate their harmony as one in humankind and share Communion.
"Divinity is a mighty river that cannot be dammed up or stopped," explains irreverent Rev. Bob Thompson, 57, borrowing a quote from Meister Eckhart, a 14th Century Christian mystic. "We all do drink from the same river, but we package the water differently."
Celebrated by Protestant churches, World Communion Sunday calls for all Christians to commemorate their unity in Christ and the sanctity of the Communion table. Inaugurated by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1936, the worship service has been embraced by other denominations and is celebrated the first Sunday in October.
At Lake Street Church, a liberal congregation affiliated with the American Baptist Churches of America, Thompson broadened the scope of Communion Sunday after preaching a sermon about the tradition 10 years ago.
"All of a sudden it struck me as so ironic the way we celebrate World Communion," he said. "Protestants get together in their own churches and think about each other while they're having Communion. What about the rest of the world? If we really believed in this stuff, we would invite the rest of the world in to share the Communion with us in the spirit of Jesus table fellowship."
[Note to Bob: please read again 1 Corinthians 10-11. Especially 10:20-22]
His approach reflects the autonomy that Baptists hold dear. They have what Thompson refers to as "soul liberty," freedom from a higher authority other than truth. But he acknowledges that Lake Street Church worships on the margins of the Baptist denomination."What we do here though on the margins is rooted in Baptist heritage, because soul liberty is inextricably part of our self-identity as Baptists," he said. "At least it was historically. Most Baptists have lost that awareness."
[Gasp! When 'soul liberty' attacks! Even Jesus must yield to the mighty god Soul Liberty!]
Rev. Larry Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, said Thompson takes interfaith relations to the next level.
['to the next level'= winner of the understatement of the day award]
He said that while joint worship services and community service projects are worthwhile endeavors, encouraging parishioners to examine themselves before examining other religious traditions can yield to a deeper connection.
"There is an interest on Bob's part about the deep wellsprings of every human being," Greenfield said. "He has explored that within himself and helps others within the congregation to do that.... That might seem unrelated to relating to other traditions. But if you go deep enough, you're going to find some connections. There's a kind of bonding between people at a greater depth than simply saying, let's do some rituals together or let's understand each other's teachings."
"Bob and the church understand they are part of a wider fellowship that doesn't necessarily do the ministry the way they do it," Greenfield added, referring to the 1.5-million member American Baptist denomination. "But they are a very important part in contributing to our common life in dealing with interfaith sorts of issues."
Despite Thompson's unconventional ways, his path to the pulpit was common for clergy of his generation. His father, too, was an evangelical American Baptist preacher. After college, Thompson entered seminary to avoid the draft, though he had no intention of following in his father's footsteps.
In the late '70s he landed at Lake Street Church. He opened a soup kitchen in the basement of the building and encouraged parishioners to form mini-communities that embraced other spiritual traditions.
A typical calendar includes Meditation Satsang, Explorations in Mysticism and Dream Sharing. The church's Light of the Moon Society meets monthly at the sight of the full moon.
[What? No Asherah Pole Dancing Night? No High Place Celebrations? As Jar Jar would say, "How rude!"]
In 1995, the name of the church changed from First Baptist to Lake Street Church. The congregation also welcomed gay and lesbian parishioners. Attendance has since tripled, Thompson said.
"People are here not because they resonate with [the Baptist affiliation]. We're in a post-denominational era anyway," Thompson said.
Cheryl Graham grew up Lutheran, studied in a Presbyterian seminary and dabbled in Buddhism, the Baha'i faith and the Unitarian Church before she heard about Lake Street. There she said she found a community of "Christian misfits" like herself."
People come for Bob but stay because of the church," she said. "He tries to bring us as close to Christ as possible. He opens gates for all of us to be honest about our journey."
Can there be any doubt that this church should be tossed out of the American Baptist Churches this time yesterday? If you even hesitate to say yes, you do not comprehend the role of fidelity to the teaching of Christ and His apostles.