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Muslim mother-in-law? Hindu son-in-law? The church can help.

Finland’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has laid out guidelines for multicultural families -- and clerics -- facing the complexities of inter-faith religious celebrations. The precepts have the blessing of the synod of Bishops.

Hindujumalaksi meikattu lapsi katsoo peiliin ennen osallistumistaan Hindujen Janmashtami-juhlaan Intian Amritsarissa
The Finnish Lutheran church has issued guidelines for clerics dealing with the growing number of inter-faith families in the capital region. Image: Raminder Pal Singh / EPA

“Muslim mother-in-law? Hindu son-in-law? A common reality in the capital region,” wrote Helsinki's Lutheran Bishop Irja Askola as she promoted the church’s latest work on her Facebook page.

The Lutheran church’s guidebook for ministering to inter-faith families was finalised during a bishops' conclave, as participants developed prescriptions for dealing with baptism, marriage or the administration of funeral rights in multi-faith families.

Finland is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan and in the Helsinki region in particular, pastors are facing situations where the church has to serve people of different faiths.

The recently-published guide advises priests that other religious traditions are not foreign to Christianity, but that on special occasions, certain elements may be borrowed with due discretion.

The church bases the production of the work on the precepts of ecumenical theology, which upholds the Christian principles of love and generosity.

"Hospitality a Christian virtue"

“The guiding principle is that a traditional Christian virtue is hospitality,” said Jyri Komulainen, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops and a theologian versed in multi-religious identity.

The church’s guide book answers a range of questions raised by clerics ministering to a multicultural flock: How to celebrate a wedding where one partner is a Hindu? Can a family incorporate elements of Buddhism into a baptism ceremony? Can families burying a loved one have visible elements of Islamic and Christian traditions?

“Using elements of other religious traditions are not inimical to Christian customs,” Komulainen said.

The guide book allows clerics and parishioners a free hand in selecting introductory words and speeches and even in the choice of music for multicultural services, with the caveat that they conform to the nature of religious worship.

“Christian Indians have taken traditional Hindu texts and adapted them to Christian purposes. The text says; ‘Lead us from nothingness into existence, lead us from darkness into light, lead us from death to immortality. So a 3,000-year old Indian text takes on a Christian meaning,” Komulainen explained.

The booklet also offers hints for religious services involving Christians and atheists.

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