Living Interfaith: Q and A with the Rev. Margaret Rose

The Rev. Margaret Rose has been the deputy for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration for the Episcopal Church since 2012. In this position she has helped represent the Episcopal Church in many interfaith contexts. This spring she is a Procter Scholar at Episcopal Divinity School.

The Procter Scholars Program at EDS provides a semester in residence for clergy and lay people involved in ministry, offering opportunities for individual study and for mutual inquiry through courses at EDS and in the Boston Theological Institute.

In addition to attending classes—Global Anglicanism, Pluralism and Christianity, Women, Gender, and Politics in Transnational Perspective, and Women and Buddhism to be precise—she has been attending lectures, seminars, and workshops from topics ranging from Women and Pentecostalism, Buddhist Ministry, Sharia law, and more. She has met with colleagues at the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and enjoyed the benefits of the Center of the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. Because of her history in women’s ministries, (she is the former director of women’s ministries for the Episcopal Church) she has a particular desire to engage women’s public voice and has had the opportunity to explore those issues as well. She is also passionate about the issues of “Religion in the Public Sphere” and will be sharing further thoughts on this theme at a coffee hour during Alumni/ae Days at EDS.

We asked Margaret a few questions about how she understands the importance of her work in the Episcopal Church and about her semester at EDS.

Q: What has been one of your highlights as deputy for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration for the Episcopal Church?

Last summer the Episcopal Church hosted 35 ecumenical and interreligious partners for the first few days of General Convention. During meals, meetings, and conversation, we shared similarities and differences of our faith and legislative bodies. A particular highlight was when Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America invited the Presiding Bishop to come to their annual gathering. “You can teach us something about the legislative process and we can teach you how to bring whole families together for a celebration!” Having guests at General Convention helps those of us who were hosts to see what was going on from the perspective of another.

Q: What is something that has surprised you about this work?

How much I care! Two very different examples of why this work is so important to me spring to mind. The first was a recent meeting of Anglican Roman Catholic USA dialogue. For two days we met to share theology, to struggle with deep questions of faith, and explore our common yearning for the unity of the church. We shared our deepest thoughts, yet when we came to share eucharist, we could not. I do believe the church is one. Our work is to find a way to return to that Oneness in a way that does not deny the rich diversity that is also the church. 

Another example was my recent visit to the Friday Muslim prayer service at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul here in Boston It was the first Friday of prayers after the Marathon bombing. I was in the small area with the women, but able to see that there were 400 or more others praying in the hall of the Cathedral. The dean of the Cathedral welcomed everyone, saying, “I think God is rejoicing that you are here today and that we can share the space of prayer.” As prayers continued, the women invited me to kneel with them.

Q: Given recent events both in Boston and throughout the world, what are the most important things to keep in mind when working on interfaith issues?

Relationship, relationship, relationship. In other words, get to know the people who practice a different faith from your own. Find out what is happening in your neighborhood. It might be a surprise to learn how many different faith traditions are represented in places that were once homogenous. Beware of stereotypes. And be open to surprising similarities and surprising differences.

Q: Why do you think this work is so important at this stage of the Episcopal Church?

Many have said that “this is a post denominational age” and they may be right. Others have said “this is a spiritual and not religious time.” They may be right as well.

Common to both statements is an ecumenical opportunity for partnership, valuing our particular identities and history while engaging in common work for the good of our communities. Ecumenical and interreligious work is vital, not only because it provides common ground for common work, but also because as we get to know the faith of others, I believe we deepen our own.

Q: Can you provide an example of a church or congregation that you have come to know that has successfully fostered interfaith collaboration? What were their specific strategies?

You have two in Massachusetts that I know about—the shared space between Emmanuel Church and a temple and the Friday prayers at the Cathedral. There are many others, both here and around the country.

Perhaps the most well known is the Tri Faith Initiative in Omaha, Nebraska where a church, a synagogue, and a mosque are being built on the same land. A shared community center will be built. Already a children’s curriculum, called Interplay is in use locally with plans for publication. A resolution from this past General Convention calls on Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers to survey the dioceses to discover their interreligious work. Our hope is to map their findings. They will be available on our web site for congregations and worshipping communities to share information and strategies.

Q: This past weekend was the Climate Revival in Boston that brought together the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ. How was the event received and does this represent the kind of work that you think we’ll see more of moving forward?

This is precisely the kind of advocacy work that is well suited for ecumenical and interfaith groups. The two “revival” services this weekend both at Old South Church and later Trinity Church were filled. Issues like climate change or peace connect with people of all faiths as well as those who are not involved in faith groups. It is a way to bring together people who care about the earth and working toward a just and sustainable peace.

Q: What are some highlights of your time here at EDS?

Having the opportunity to read again, spending hours going deeper into an area of study, having the time to reflect on the work of years of ministry, connecting to current writing and academic work.

Another highlight has been to be at EDS, getting to know professors and students and their work, being grateful for those who are now working toward ordained ministry, for their care and love for the church.

And then to be in Cambridge—where I studied and began the first years of ordained ministry. There have been moments connecting with old friends and appreciating new, strategizing next steps for interreligious work. 

Though I am not an EDS alum, I took classes for a semester to prepare for GOEs and later, I was the coordinator of the very new FLT program. My daughters were in day care here. EDS was a place of welcome and Carter Heyward, Sue Hiatt, and later Alison Cheek served as mentors for women and men in the Diocese. EDS was very much a part of my formation in the early years of my ordained ministry. For that I am very grateful. It has been a gift to be here on St. John’s Road.

Click here to learn more about "Religion in the Public Sphere," which takes place on May 8 and 9 at Episcopal Divinity School. The Rev. Margaret Rose will be sharing her thoughts on this theme at a coffee hour on May 9 during Alumni/ae Days at EDS.