One Priest, Two Faiths, And Lots Of Questions

March 12, 2009

Author: Daniel Burke

Source: Religion News Service

Friday afternoons find the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding at the Al-Islam Center in Seattle, reciting Muslim prayers.

Come Sunday, she heads about two miles south to kneel in the pews of St. Clement's of Rome Episcopal Church.

"My experience and my call is to continue to follow Jesus," said Redding, an Episcopal priest for the past 25 years, "even as I practice Islam."

Redding says she is both Christian and Muslim, fully following both faiths. And for that, Redding expects to be defrocked soon by the Episcopal Church, which has warned the 57-year-old to renounce Islam or leave the priesthood.

Some Episcopalians are urging the church to take a similar stand against the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, who was elected bishop of the sparsely populated Diocese of Northern Michigan last month. The only candidate on the ballot, Thew Forrester, 51, has practiced Zen meditation for a decade and received lay ordination from a Buddhist community.

Conservatives are outraged at the election of this "openly Buddhist bishop," as they call him, charging Thew Forrester with syncretism -- blending two faiths, and dishonoring both.

The bishop-elect and the Lake Superior Zendo that ordained him say the angst is misplaced. The ordination simply honors his commitment to Zen meditation, they say. He took no Buddhist vows and professed no beliefs that contradict Christianity.

"I am not a Buddhist, nor an ordained Buddhist priest," Thew Forrester said in a interview. "I am an Episcopal priest who is grateful for the practice of Zen meditation."

While people like Redding, who claim membership in two religions, are quite rare, scholars say the number of Americans who borrow bits from various traditions is multiplying.