The broom closet door is open

Interfaith worship is still a volatile an issue in some denominations. To choose one recent example, a task force in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado has recommended that liberals make a concession to conservatives by no longer administering Holy Communion to non-Christians. Apparently Trinity United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, left behind those sorts of questions long ago. As Eileen E. Flynn reported Monday in an understated story for the Austin American-Statesman (registration required), Trinity understands inclusion as bringing Christians and non-Christians together for a casserole of liturgies and theologies:

For the congregation of the church, at 600 E. 50th St., a witch leading worship isn't scandalous. It isn't even that unusual.

Trinity members have hosted American Indian shamans, Buddhist priests and other faith leaders, including Wiccans, before. They even practice their own pagan-inspired rituals at services.

"It's not my way or hell," said Trinity member Linda Eldredge. "All are welcome here. Everybody's got something to offer."

Flynn makes the point that increased interfaith worship is likely to be a long-term response to the terrorist strikes of three years ago:

"I don't think as a nation we've figured out what to do with September 11," said the Rev. Tim Tutt, United Christian Church pastor and president of the [Austin Area Interreligious Ministries'] board of directors. "This is AAIM's best attempt to create a living memorial."

(A theological debate has raged for three years in a different denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, on whether one of its pastors should have participated in the post-9/11 memorial service at Yankee Stadium.)

Flynn also points out a moment of Wiccan humor, which this example suggests may be as wry and self-mocking as Unitarian Universalist humor:

After the service, [Tom] Davis noted the dread of sharing one's identity in public. Just as some of Trinity's gay members fear the consequences of coming out of the closet with their sexuality, he said, Wiccans have a metaphor for their own situation: coming out of the broom closet.

The expression is an example, Wiccan Gordon Fossum said, of the mix of mirth and reverence his faith embodies. Earlier that morning, Fossum had jokingly invoked the "Goddess Caffeina" to get the church's coffee maker brewing.

Wearing a silver pentacle necklace and sipping from a Garfield mug, Fossum shrugged.

"If a religion can't laugh at itself, it's got some work to do," he said.

Trinity is one United Methodist congregation that's testing the boundaries of the Methodists' marketing slogan, "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors."

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