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One of the challenges that interfaith law enforcement chaplains encounter is how to pray in an inclusive way in public without compromising their own faith tradition and also without alienating the people being prayed for. There are a few simple guidelines and techniques that can help an interfaith chaplain pray effectively which when applied will enhance the chaplain's ability to build bridges across faith differences and help the people being served feel safe, comforted and understood.
Is Compromise Necessary?
It is natural for people with a firm faith to be the ones who are drawn to serve as interfaith law enforcement chaplains. Typically, these people have strong ties to an active spiritual community and a well established practice. So it is not uncommon for them to struggle with compromising their belief system when serving in an interfaith capacity. They sometimes worry that they will be asked to water down their faith in service to the greater good. To be sure, chaplains are not being invited to have less faith, but more.
"Let each of us according to our own faith...."
There is another way to think about service as an interfaith law enforcement chaplain. Rather than finding strength in watered down faith and belief, the power of the chaplain comes from their clarity and conviction in what they believe. There is a something compelling and powerful about the prayers of someone who has deep conviction. So to make prayer accessible when offered in public or to people of different faith traditions, one technique is to set up the prayer time in a way that everyone present may be comfortable feeling and practicing with their own passion. A simple introduction to the prayer such as "Let each of us, according to our own faith tradition take a moment to acknowledge the creator in silence....," will do wonders to create a sense of ease and inclusion. This statement alone establishes and atmosphere of openness and does not require anyone to pray in a certain way. After the moment of silent reflection, an interfaith chaplain might say something like "It is my joy to share with you my personal tradition of prayer which I offer it in the spirit of sharing my deep convictions with you."
Is Interfaith Even Possible?
It takes a good deal of willingness, and a strong taste for the greater good for people to work together in certain environments. The world of politics is one such environment and religion is another. Even best friends can quickly find themselves in a heated-even painful-debate about differing political points of view. And so it goes with religion; matters of faith run deep. For this reason, being an active chaplain in an interfaith environment requires the chaplain to be solid in his or her own faith, while at the same time able to notice those telltale signs of heated, emotional reactivity that would launch the unsuspecting person into a defensive debate, and to step away from engaging in them. An interfaith chaplain does well to be clear on the mission of the agency he or she serves, because it could be a very small step to take out of the agency's mission and into a personal mission. If my need to communicate about my faith is greater than the need to serve the mission of the agency, I am going to feel uncomfortable in the role of interfaith chaplain.
How does this relate to prayer?
Have you ever heard someone praying in public and using their prayer to lecture the audience? An interfaith law enforcement chaplain typically serves people from many different faith traditions, with different tolerance for religious matters and different comfort levels with public prayer. With this in mind, sincere, devotional prayer stripped bare of any agenda to influence or persuade the audience, is probably going to serve the chaplain and the people prayed for best of all. Here is a good practice: imagine yourself on the other end of the prayer. If you are a particular faith, imagine being prayed for by someone of a completely different faith. It is possible that there are some beliefs in your faith that may even be considered unsupportable in the other person's faith. Use your imagination to ask yourself what would make you feel alienated and what would make you feel embraced and welcome.
Bottom Line Sincerity
I remember a man of faith offered to pray for me before a presentation I was to give. We were of different faith traditions, something that became infinitely clear to me as soon as he started praying. He was saying things that had no place in my way of believing. However, I noticed something. I was completely open to his prayer and genuinely moved and blessed by it. Afterwards I asked myself what had allowed that to take place and I really learned something. He was so sincere in his prayer that his authenticity and kindness completely leveled the terrain between his faith and mine. I doubt that I will ever be a believer of his faith, but in that moment, I realized that beyond all techniques and guides, the most important standard is that of the sincerity of the chaplain's own heart.
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