Going to other churches: Is it a sin or a means of salvation?

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

My age gives me a different perspective, hopefully a vantage point in considering attendance and participation in worship at churches other than my own Roman Catholic liturgy.
In my youth, before the exploding Spirit of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council opened windows of grace, I was carefully and woefully taught that all denominations beyond my own were to be respected, but no participation in them or with them would be allowed or acceptable.
I was obedient, to a fault. I recall the time when a wizened old man beckoned me to enter the local synagogue. His looks frightened me but the thought of going inside a forbidden place was even more fearful.
I did not realize that he was a rabbi who simply wanted me to turn on the lights, an action he could not take on the Sabbath. How sad that I ran from him and lost the opportunity to assist another human being. How sorrowfully painful religion would appear—to him and to me.
Sadder yet were the many occasions when I refused to attend, and therefore celebrate, the weddings of friends and family (including that of my youngest sister) that occurred in churches verboten to me. My absence was proof they were wrong and I was right; they were unacceptable and I was righteously good enough.
That was then. This is now. I learned that charity is the prime virtue. I learned my denomination, though I am rooted in its profound tradition, is not the sole bearer of truth, the only way to God. I learned that theists could easily give birth to atheists when their vision of God is too small for others to grasp.
Interestingly, I also deepened my appreciation of my own church affiliation, despite its many faults and failings. I discovered that all God’s people struggle to know, understand, appreciate, revere and integrate truth.
The result is I now journey with many people of many faiths or no affiliation at all with organized religion. I journey through the organization of religion to find faith in God, named or unnamed, known or unknown. I travel with folks who don’t know they are on a faith voyage, a pilgrimage of grace, because those are words that do not fit the vocabulary of their life.
My voyage, I would hope, is also the pilgrimage of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the institutional church. My prayer is the authority figures become more intent and intentional about the call they have received to be servant ministers, serving God’s people more than ordering them.
Grated, I am a dreamer. I dream of a time when unity supersedes the drive for uniformity and underscores the reality that none of us has the total truth. All of us, hopefully, are striving to find, learn and live God’s truth, God’s word. Conceivably, we will work together in this venture—God and us, we and God.
If I can judge from my personal understanding and background, the venture is equally an adventure. It is an involvement in life’s surprises. It opens many doors and offers a magnificent maturity regarding faith, hope and charity. It erodes narrowness and replaces it with trust in mystery, Divine mystery discovered in human ways.
Most recently, my husband and I encountered this kind of spiritual honing. Both of us were busily engaged in doing our weekend chores, when the doorbell rang on a Saturday afternoon. As he moved toward the door to respond, he spotted two women and a little girl and inwardly groaned. He knew, at once, they were Jehovah Witnesses.
Prepared with his speech, “I am a Roman Catholic. I respect your faith, but I am committed to my own,” he opened the door. The words had scarcely left his mouth when one of the women noticed the paintings that adorn our walls.
The ensuing conversation led to mutual appreciation and a call for me to meet his new acquaintances. As I came downstairs, I recognized one of the women. She was a salesperson at a local department store that had patiently assisted me with a complicated sale. Suddenly, a desire to evangelize by insistence on belief in one’s own denominational stance became a sharing of life.
It no longer mattered we were not on the same page of rules and regulations. It was of no concern that our belief in God was not identical. What was important was we were all trying to enter Divine mystery, which we all somehow comprehended that God was in us as well as outside us. We were swathed in grace. We recognized our individual giftedness, God-given, and celebrated it in those few moments together. We were, if only for that short time, in a heavenly spot.
That was then. This is now. How do we continue that vitality, the magnitude of living to the full? I guess we do it step by step each day. It will be an ongoing process, a continual entry into the Unknown, the Unexpected, and the incomprehensible Presence of the God who is.
It will be the incarnation of St. Theresa’s prayer: “May today there be peace within. May I trust God that I am exactly where I am meant to be. May I not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May I use the gifts I have received and pass on the love that has given to me. May I be content knowing I am a child of God. Let this presence settle into my bones and allow my soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and everyone of us.”
This is the way we will find the shalom God desire for us. This is the way churches will cease to be organizations and institutions and become pathways to the Divine. This is the way doors will open to God. It is the way we will be open doors of godliness.
The trip is more than interesting. It is a mind-boggling experience that causes me to wonder, wonder, wonder. It is a trip into Love.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at grammistfran@gmail.com.