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Corey Passons leads World Religions workshops

Corey Passons, pastor of the Community for Interfaith Celebration and executive director of Interfaith Works in Olympia, not only attended the Parliament of World Religions (POWR) in August at Chicago but also co-led two workshops.

Corey Passons leads workshops at 2023 Parliament of World Religions Photo courtesy of Corey Passons

Eight years ago, he attended a Parliament of World Religions online. This was his first time to go in person. POWR is held every three to four years.

“I attended because of my work with the congregation and nonprofit agency,” he said. “I shared my experiences as a practitioner of interfaith relationships, ideas and concepts.

“It was incredible to participate in the POWR with diverse workshops, people from many cultures and 80 nations,” said Corey, whose participation was supported by Interfaith Works.

He led a workshop on the Dances of Universal Peace, with Ted Ryle, using Aramaic prayers of Jesus. The dances are liturgical dances using scriptures and poetry from world religious traditions and based on the Sufi tradition, Corey said.

“The Community for Interfaith Celebration finds Dances of Universal Peace a powerful practice,” Corey said.

The second workshop, “Interfaith Spirituality in a Post-Modern World,” was a panel with Corey and two other practitioners sharing on interfaith dialogue and spirituality in a culture that is largely unchurched.

The leaders explored the people interfaith spirituality serves, and how interfaith ministers honor multiple traditions with authenticity and reverence.

With Corey, there were two other interfaith leaders.

Jen Briedman is a chaplain and executive director of the Dances of Universal Peace who grew up in a Christian home, open to encounter diverse faith traditions. She spoke of the power in moving the body in connection with others.

Tahil Sharma of the United Religions Initiative in Los Angeles is a community organizer with this coalition of denominations, focusing energies of congregations to work together for social justice. He spoke of his cultural background with parents who were Hindu and Sikh. He understands the importance of people connecting and recognizing their different religious identities and common humanity.

The panelists shared from experiences in different functions of chaplaincy, organizational leadership, social justice advocacy and education, and interfaith congregational ministry.

Corey said that in each of these settings there is a through line of seeking connection and offering support and care for those they serve at the level of the human heart. Their ministries exist in a moment of record growth for those who are religiously unaffiliated and those seeking a more diverse, plural community of teachings and practices for their spiritual lives.

They shared their experiences, hopes, challenges and joy in the work they do fostering depth on their various paths of service in interfaith ministry.

“We explored how we practice faith without causing harm as we present and pull from practices other than our own,” he said. “It’s important not to represent a tradition that is not authentically our own practice.”

He said sometimes in interfaith settings, leaders share a practice from another religious culture without fully understanding it.

Corey explained that often Christians to drew practices into their tradition from pagan, pre-Christian traditions.

Some traditions are part of Christian celebrations, such as the Advent wreath, bringing a tree with lights into the home, Christmas Eve being near the solstice, and the cross symbol—with different meaning—from the Roman Empire.

“Appropriation of symbols is at the heart of every religion born out of another or as a way to promote it to a religion they encounter,” Corey said.

As pastor of an interfaith congregation and organizer for social justice, Corey’s approach is to honor people’s spiritual walk, encouraging them to explore their spirituality and helping them identify the social justice reality of their tradition.

“At the Community of Interfaith Celebration, we not only talk of different religions, without promoting them as truth, but also reflect on them in our Christian setting through the Bible as the source of truth at the Community of Interfaith Celebration. Members decide for themselves the authority and relevance for their lives.”

In seminary at the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University, Corey worked as a graduate assistant in interreligious dialogue. His classes were on interpersonal communication and world religions.

Corey, who grew up in Spokane, has traveled and explored different world religions. He studied at the University of Montana and Eastern Washington University before completing his undergraduate degree in English literature and classics, eventually finishing it in 1997 at Seattle Pacific University

For 20 years, Corey made a living as a carpenter with a constructing company and expressing himself an artist musician—a singer and songwriter in bands and solon.

With an evangelical church, he joined a team that would visit at the Monroe Correctional Facility in a ministry to those serving life sentences.

“I learned the biographies and incredible traumas of these men. It opened my heart to the power of presence, just being open to someone and giving full attention,” said Corey.

He studied at the STM from 2009 to 2016 and began exploring other traditions. For a while, he attended a United Methodist Church, but then moved. The closest church was Bethany UCC, which he began attending in 2010.

“I learned what it meant to be open and affirming. I wanted to be in solidarity with friends I saw rejected in evangelical churches. I wanted to be in a church where I felt comfortable and in a church with people who were able to ask questions. It felt authentic in my spiritual identity and understanding of how to do theology.”

Corey ended his work as a musician and carpenter the last two years of his study, to be a full-time student, graduate assistant and intern with All Pilgrims Disciples of Christ and UCC Church on Broadway.

After he graduated in 2016, he was called to serve the 90-member Community of Interfaith Celebration in Olympia.

“It fits well with my understanding of the UCC, which is not creedal and non-doctrinal, •trusting people on their spiritual journeys,” he said.

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Pacific Northwest United Church News © Winter 2023-24


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