Interfaith talks offer denominational introductions

Audience member Carol Trabulsi asks a question after the talk. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Audience member Carol Trabulsi asks a question after the talk. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Pastor McCulley and his wife Daryl, left, offer a prayer for healing for an unidentified woman at the end of his talk. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Pastor McCulley and his wife Daryl, left, offer a prayer for healing for an unidentified woman at the end of his talk. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Pastor McCulley speaks on Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Pastor McCulley speaks on Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Pastor McCulley speaks on Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Pastor McCulley speaks on Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Pastor McCulley talks of the centrality of scipture in Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Pastor McCulley talks of the centrality of scipture in Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News
Pastor McCulley and his wife Daryl, left, offer a prayer for healing for Marcia Mandel at the end of his talk. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening.

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News Pastor McCulley and his wife Daryl, left, offer a prayer for healing for Marcia Mandel at the end of his talk. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening.

Pastor McCulley speaks on Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Pastor McCulley speaks on Pentecostal beliefs to approximately 200 in his church. The Marco Island Clergy Association 2012 Interfaith Community Education Series heard from Pastor Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God Wednesday evening. Lance Shearer/Special to the Daily News

"My name is Thomas, and I speak in tongues." With these words, Rev. Thomas McCulley, pastor of the New Life Community Church of God on Marco Island, began his address to the nearly 200 attendees at the Interfaith Community Education Series, put on by the Marco Island Clergy Association.

McCulley got right into what makes evangelical, or Pentecostal or charismatic, church services different from other faiths and denominations, but with humor and a light touch, managed to draw the crowd in and explain his church's practices as just one more way to access the Divine.

"Some people get uncomfortable with charismatic practices. We get very emotional," said McCulley. "We've very demonstrative in our worship."

Nevertheless, he told the group of Protestants of many stripes, Catholics and Jews sitting in the sanctuary at the New Life Community Church on a recent Wednesday evening, Pentecostalism is the fastest growing branch of Christianity. It has about 500 million adherents worldwide.

The Interfaith series is holding a succession of weekly presentations by 10 island clergymen and women, to help believers understand others' faith better. The series was the brainchild of Rabbi Edward Maline of the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island, president of the clergy association; he held the first meeting at his synagogue.

Maline was recovering from surgery, and unable to attend McCulley's talk Jan. 25 at New Life, however. McCulley asked all present to pray for Maline's swift recovery, which he said was apparently going well.

"Isn't this a great idea Rabbi had?" said McCulley. "He would love to be here tonight" — or almost anywhere rather than a hospital room, he joked.

McCulley spoke of his childhood as the son of missionaries in Africa.

"When I pray in tongues, I'm not praying in English, Hausa, or Igbo, the languages of my childhood," he said. Sometimes, he or a member of the congregation will be moved to speak in tongues, and it is considered a direct message from God.

"I wish I could flip a switch, and give you a demonstration," said McCulley, "but I can't force it."

Generally, someone will interpret the prayer, and make sure nothing in the message conflicts with the denomination's beliefs, he said.

"If it conflicts with scripture, it's not a message of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it's from too much pepperoni late last night."

There are some practices of evangelicals, even within his own church, for which he is less enthusiastic, said McCulley.

"Ceremonial foot-washing — no one else is interested, and I'm not wild about it either," he said. "Now, 2,000 years ago, it was very sensible," but in today's world, "I don't want to see your feet."

"Pentecostalism is a big tent, covering and crossing over many denominational boundaries and styles," said McCulley. The key to their faith is that "Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit acts today just as he did 2,000 years ago."

He acknowledged that many fall short in their own lives, and that many religious questions have no easy answer.

"I am particularly aware that in my lifetime, horrible things have been done in the name of Christianity," McCulley said. "And when God wants to do something, why does he hold off until people pray?"

McCulley concluded by offering to lay on hands and pray for anyone who came forward, which several in the audience took him up on.

"I go to the Presbyterian Church, but I thought his talk was wonderful," said Lynn Kolowsky. "There are so many sensitive issues, but he's so genuine, and presented it so well. My Jewish friend was really struck by the healing they offer."

Laura Sonntag, who described herself as a "nondenominational Christian," said, "I don't agree with everything, but I certainly understand it better now. There's so much focus on praying in tongues." In the presentation at the Jewish temple, she said, the unrolling of the Torah scroll, made up of the first five books of the Old Testament, was "a very powerful symbol."

Wednesday, February 1, Rev. Richard Adair of the United Church of Marco Island hosted the gathering. Here is the rest of the series, all of which begin at 7 p.m. at the location listed:

Feb. 8: Rev. Rita Partin will discuss "What is an Interdenominational Church?" at the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island, 991 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island.

Feb. 16: The Rev. Kyle Bennett, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 1101 North Collier Blvd., Marco Island, will discuss the Episcopal faith.

Feb. 29 The Rev. Kirk Dreiser, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, 350 S. Barfield Road, Marco Island, will discuss Methodist Christianity.

March 7: Family Church lead pastor, the Rev. Timothy Neptune, will discuss the Baptist faith and message and explain the different styles of worship throughout the Baptist denomination. The church address is 1450 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island.

March 14: The Rev. Tim Navin, pastor of San Marco Catholic Church, 851 San Marco Road, Marco Island, will discuss Roman Catholic beliefs and practices.

March 20: Marco Presbyterian Church's lead pastor will discuss Presbyterianism and the Christian faith. The church is at 75 W. Elkcam Circle. Marco Island.

March 22: The Rev. Kevin Koenig, senior pastor at Marco Lutheran Church, 525 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, will discuss Lutheran beliefs and practices.

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