Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop Offers Apology to Hindus over Conversion Attempts
By David W. Virtue
Sept. 29, 2009
The ultra liberal Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles J. Jon Bruno offered a formal apology to Hindus for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination including attempts by Christians to convert them.
He then authorized a joint Hindu-Anglican service at St John's Cathedral in Los Angeles permitting Hindu devotees to receive the consecrated elements.
According to a statement read on his behalf by suffragan Bishop Chester Talton, he vowed not to proselytize non-Christians. "I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve, in this spirit, and in order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I offer a sincere apology to the Hindu religious community," said the bishop's statement reported by the Los Angeles Times.
A Hare Krishna provided music along with the St John's cathedral choirs. When the Eucharist was celebrated Hindus were invited to receive the consecrated elements. Some Hindus who abstain from alcohol received only the host, the Los Angeles Times reported.
An icon was venerated at the Communion service. While a Hindu band sang a hymn the Anglican celebrant anointed the icon with sandalwood paste, draped a garland of flowers over the icon and lit a lamp, "as a sign of Christ, the light in the darkness."
Hindu nun Pravrajika Saradeshaprana, dressed in a saffron robe, blew into a conch shell three times, calling to worship Hindu and Episcopal religious leaders who joined Saturday to celebrate an Indian Rite Mass at St. John's Cathedral near downtown.
The rare joint service included chants from the Temple Bhajan Band of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and a moving rendition of "Bless the Lord, O My Soul" sung by the St. John's choir.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in worship service," said Bob Bland, a member of St. Patrick's Episcopal Church of Thousand Oaks, who was among the 260 attendees. "There was something so holy -- so much symbolism and so many opportunities for meditation."
"I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve," Bruno said in a statement read by the Rt. Rev. Chester Talton at the service. "In this spirit, and in order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I offer a sincere apology to the Hindu religious community."
The bishop also said he was committed to renouncing "proselytizing" of Hindus. Bruno had been scheduled to read the statement himself, but a death of a close family friend prevented him from attending the service.
Swami Sarvadevananda, of Vedanta Society of Southern California, was among about a dozen Hindu leaders honored during the service. He called Bruno's stance "a great and courageous step" that binds the two communities.
"By declaring that there will be no more proselytizing, the bishop has opened a new door of understanding," Sarvadevananda said. "The modern religious man must expand his understanding and love of religions and their practices."
All were invited to Holy Communion, after the Episcopal celebrant elevated a tray of consecrated Indian bread, and deacons raised wine-filled chalices.
In respect to Hindu tradition, a tray of flowers was also presented. Christians and Hindus lined up for communion, but since Orthodox Hindus shun alcohol, they consumed only the bread.
During the service, the two faiths also blended practices during the handling of an icon of Jesus.
The Rev. Karen MacQueen, an associate priest at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Pomona, who was the celebrant, carried the icon, a large painted image, during the procession. She placed it before the altar.
The Diocese of Los Angeles' ecumenical and interfaith officer called the service unprecedented for the Episcopal Church. American canon law forbids the distribution of the consecrated elements to the un-baptized, but no sanctions have been levied on those bishops and clergy who regularly violate these rules.
The diocese reported the Eucharist was celebrated according to the liturgy of the Church of South India and the "tradition of Bede Griffiths". It also incorporated an "Arati, the Service of Light, and Kirtan, congregational chanting of the Holy Names."
At the foundation’s sixth annual Capitol Hill banquet on September 23 the Hindu American Foundation honored two Los Angeles area priests with its 2009 Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism.
Suhag Shukla, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an advocacy group devoted to religious diversity, said: "Our shared message could not be clearer -- pluralism and human rights are universal concerns. Looking back on five years of bringing a loud and clear voice to our nation's leaders, we are optimistic that Hindu Americans across our nation see this foundation as a key stakeholder and an institution that reflects their own coming of age."
Bishop Bruno's views reflect those of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori who has repeatedly said that one should would never attempt to convert Muslims. She has publicly argued that individual or personal (Christian) salvation is a "Western heresy" and "work".
Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold argued vigorously for what he called pluriform theology and designated pluralism as the lynchpin of his Affirming Catholicism.
---ENS and the L.A. Times contributed to this story.
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