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Interfaith festivals and events

Harmony Choral Celebration Concert creates healthy community

Harmony Choral Celebration Concert organizers of Kansas City, Missouri, say they know of no other interfaith concert in the United States featuring both a mixed community choir and demonstration choirs of different faiths. The November 12, 2006, concert -- held in the South-Broadland Presbyterian Church -- featured not only the Presbyterian's praise team but also the Ebony Chorale and the Baha'i Community Choir. The performance was on the important Baha'i date of the the Baha’u’llah's birthday. It began with the Muslim call to prayer, then proceeded to Jewish, Baha'i, African tribal, Gaelic, and Christian gospel and contemporary musical contributions. During the past 17 years, this concert of mainly choral music has also included Native American and Hindu music.

The concert features musical styles from a wide array of sources and, as choir members learn about the origins and meanings of the pieces they will perform, they come to a deeper appreciation of why a particular belief or practice is important to a people and share that with concert goers.

The concerts began with an initiative from the cantor of Beth Shalom synagogue.They are now a project of Harmony / NCCJ, an organization begun a year ago through the coming together of Kansas City Harmony and the local NCCJ (National Conference for Community and Justice). Harmony / NCCJ's mission is to improve race relations, increase appreciation for cultural diversity, and eliminate intolerance.

Vern Barnet says about the event, "Exposure to others' sacred music and art and traditions inoculates the community from prejudice and builds the muscles of faith."  The traditions of interfaith events in the Kansas City area, he says, "strengthen the network of mutual understanding necessary to withstand the assault when those claiming to act in the name of religion -- any religion -- seek to harm us or plant suspicion or divide us from one another."

Washington's annual InterFaith Concert

This year -- on November 14, 2006 -- marked the 27th annual InterFaith Concert prepared by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (IFC), of which Clark Lobenstine is executive director. Today the IFC brings together the Baha'i, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Jewish, Latter-day Saints, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Sikh, and Zoroastrian faith communities in the metropolitan Washington region. Through a festival that combines sacred song, dance, and chant, the participating member communities can share together. The annual concerts provide a public face and express the hopes of a conference that promotes dialogue, understanding, and cooperative work for justice among persons of different faiths in metropolitan Washington.

Interfaith Story Circles

The 2006 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women heard storyteller Lorraine Hartin-Gelardi of the Duchess County, New York, Interfaith Story Circle. The Duchess County circle is a part of the National Storytelling Network. It provides an opportunity for people to get to know one another face- to-face through sharing stories from their various faith traditions and from their life experiences. When session of the circle centers on a specific theme. Each time, what develops reflects the diversity of the particular people there and the specificity of the hosting faith community. A leader begins by telling one or two stories, then others are invited to tell their stories without having had to plan their participation in advance. The stories focus on faith and spirituality and are seen as possible sources of revelation, inspiration, and transformation. The Duchess County Interfaith Story Circle was started by the Duchess County Interfaith Council.

Sharing sacred space

The Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia, is renovating its facility. As they do so, they will worship at Agudas Achim Congregation synagogue. This move represents a reversal of move of the synagogue to the church when the synagogue was renovated twelve years ago.

The move began with a five-block walk from the church to the synagogue, led by a bagpiper. At the synagogue, the Presbyterian group was met by synagogue members who had waited there to greet the new arrivals.

When the Jewish offer came to the Christians, they decided not to change the synagogue's space although the rabbi had invited them to bring their worship symbols with them. (Westminster did bring their large pulpit Bible; a member made a small baptismal bowl, challis, and communion plate.) Further, the Presbyterians agreed that the only foods they would bring into the synagogue would be kosher.The church's web site provides instructions on identifying kosher foods.

One problem that arose early is apparently unsolvable. The synagogue has religious school for its children when the church members would want to use the parking lot, so it becomes the place where shared space doesn't work!

The mutual exchange has sparked plans for an educational series that will explore differences between the Christian and Jewish faiths.

See the story of this move online.


Women working together

Women work to meet hunger needs

Four women in Metro Detroit -- a Protestant and a Catholic Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim -- have met and, after talking over coffee and lunches, they have established WISDOM (Women's Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit). WISDOM, now with some hundred members, recently gathered about 250 women and children into a donated warehouse where they packed meals to go both to Darfur and to local shelters and kitchens for the homeless and hungry. By participating in the food effort together, the women found they learned about one another's faiths and dispelled fears. They brought kids into their effort to do something for others. One of the women said, "We are all in this together, and I think more and more people are seeing that."

Women dialogue about peace

United Religions Initiative (URI) is sharing a model for discussing peace that is suitable for intimate groups of eight to ten women engaged in interfaith conversation. The model calls for women to sit in a circle and one by one to respond to open-ended sentences that they complete.  Three of the incomplete sentences, which can found on the URI web site, are about feelings related to peace and the fourth sentence is about commitment to act courageously to be identified by each participant.  URI credits the model to Circles of Ten.

Women meet together in friendship

Women share breakfast and recipes

Women in New Hampshire's Lakes Region have established a pattern of interfaith breakfasts, held several times a year at various houses of worship. They began after a small group of women attended a conference in 2001. Now each woman is asked to bring some kind of breakfast food for sharing. Thereafter, recipes get shared, as do ideas. Guest speakers are also contribute to the morning programs.

Intimate sharing by Women of Faith in South Carolina

In Columbia, South Carolina, Women of Faith is an outgrowth of Partners in Dialogue, an organization begun in 1992 with initiative from the religious studies department at the University of South Carolina. Women in Faith goes beyond the potluck dinners and open houses of Partners in Dialogue to more intimate sharing -- sitting in a circle and sharing poetry, Scripture, songs, personal stories across faith traditions. The women don't resolve differences but, rather, simply share them.

Jan Love, dean of Candler School of Theology and a former chief executive for women's work in the United Methodist Church, writes about her participation in Women of Faith for Methodist women, telling them, "I have learned a great deal from the group, not only about the women’s understandings of their traditions, but also about how my faith becomes wider and deeper when I experience theirs." She describes contributions of two of the women who have affected her. One of them was willing to share her faith beyond the confines of Women of Faith by going to Love's university classes when she was a professor at the university in Columbia.


Looking at what happens in collegiate life

Interfaith on campus -- a researcher’s snapshot

Most schools have only have one organization, but there are a few with two or more like Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and Hendrix College in Conway, Arizona. The most common type of interfaith organization is an interfaith council. It varies whether or not the members of the council are official representatives from student religious groups or if membership is open to any interested student. Most councils function as a means to ensure cooperation between all religious traditions on campus and many sponsor interfaith events aimed at promoting interreligious dialogue understanding in the student body.

The types of events we are finding are quite diverse and some are extremely creative. A few draw from pop culture in an effort to interest the rest of the campus. One such event was “Three Weddings and No Funeral” held at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. For this one day event the InterReligious Council set up three weddings from different religious traditions to introduce the differences and similarities in the student body. In a similar vein, The Interreligious Council at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, sponsored a “Wedding Crashers” event.

A unique interfaith organization can be found at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. They have something called the Interfaith House. It’s a residential community housed in one of Brown’s dorms. Its function is to provide a safe space for students to explore all aspects of religion and spirituality. The House hosts informal discussion groups and sponsors a breakfast in their lounge during the [Islamic] month of Ramadan.

This is from an article written by Anne Hillman and Bud Heckman, taken from the August 2006 e- newsletter of Religions for Peace, U.S.A. Anne is a summer intern at RFPUSA from St. Olaf’s College who has been researching college and university interfaith organizations. Used by permission.

A Smith College student article on a spontaneous but lengthy interreligious conversation there points to what she saw as a serious problem: "we had no business sitting there talking about each other's religion or even our own because we weren't knowledgeable about them, and we were seriously biased against any religion that was not ours."  She finds beauty in the moment when the conversants agree to become better read before they have another "spontaneous" encounter.


Small group strategies

Workshop strategies at the World Council of Churches Assembly

Joyce Manson describes workshop strategies she encountered at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Porto Alegre in February:

Ecumenical Formation: This workshop opened up discussion by passing out pictures of stories and symbols of Jesus’ life from various cultures. An African male struggled with the picture he received of a sculptured black female figure on a cross.

Interreligious Education: Figures representing an American Jew and a Palestinian Christian and a Filipino Muslim were placed in the center of the room. Each participant was asked to write quickly one word on a 3”x5” card for each of the three characters. Writing words that come to mind in this way can uncover stereotypes. When the cards were taped onto the figures, the weight of stereotypes on each figure became visual. Most of the people in the workshop could come up with nothing for the Palestinian Christian figure.


Collaboration in a Washington D.C. program

In metropolitan Washington, Muslims have launched an educational campaign – titled {Explore Muhammad} – that has included open houses and dialogues in many {different houses of worship}. On Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, mosques, churches, and temples have opened their doors and invited those who are weary of hostility, misunderstanding, and isolationism to share coffee, tea, punch, and cookies. Through the initiative, peoples of all faiths have been encouraged to explore not only the prophet of Islam but also Muslim prayer, the contours of free speech, the halls of churches, and, most importantly, each other.

This collaboration between the {InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington}, the {Council on American Islamic Relations} (CAIR), and local faith communities will continue for one year.

At a Methodist church, after listening to a Muslim imam recount stories about his beloved prophet, a young woman stood and said, “When I came to this [open house], I knew I would hear ideas of interest to me. But you have also touched my heart.” At the end of the two hours, both hosts and guests have taken a few steps toward knowing each other, steps that began by walking into another’s sacred space – their houses of worship.

Network member Clark Lobenstine is the director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. This summary of an article by Courtney Erwin, its Coordinator for Religious Liberty was published in Ecu-Dialogue, Spring 2006. Used by permission

Enabling high school students to engage in interfaith projects

An interfaith youth alliance creates a basis for mutual understanding

A group of students in California's San Joaquin Valley have met together as an Interfaith Youth Alliance. They came from half a dozen high schools. Now they plan to form alliances in their various schools that could operate under a broader umbrella group through which they could engage in joint community projects. They expect to reach out, as well, to other religious youth groups that would also join in projects. The first meeting was at Fresno's Islamic Cultural Center. One participant, from a nondenominational Christian church, said she wanted to link with her church youth group because projects would be a good way to understand others' beliefs.

Keeping vigil in the face of unthinkable deaths

A Moment of Blessing: Healing Violence

[moments of blessing] The late 1990s were a very difficult time in Pierce County, Washington. The homicide rate was very high. The Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, home to our agency, {Associated
Ministries}, was especially rough. Drive-by shootings were the norm. Gangs were flourishing. As the local ecumenical council for Tacoma / Pierce County, we were looking for ways to help heal the violence in our neighborhood and community.

In 1998 I took note of a program operated by the local council of churches in Indianapolis. Their city had a very high homicide rate. I was fascinated that their representatives were going to the sites where homicides occurred. They went there to pray and to “reclaim” the sites. We consulted with the staff in Indianapolis and, with their blessing, took their idea and created a similar program.

A Lutheran clergyman on our staff commented that it sounded to him as though we were going to be having “Moments of Blessing.” The name took hold.

Now, when we receive word that a homicide has occurred, we work with local law enforcement to obtain the pertinent information and then schedule a Moment of Blessing. We use flyers, e-mail, and the local newspaper to inform neighbors, local churches, and the general public about the time and location of the service.

Because the Pacific Northwest is not one of the most religious parts of the country, we feel it is important to be very clear about who we are. Consequently, we request participating clergy to vest for the occasion.

At each Moment of Blessing we mark the site with prayer poles. These poles carry red ribbons bearing the name of each person who has been killed since we began the Moments of Blessing. Sadly, the poles have been filled with ribbons. Our single original prayer pole is now one of four such poles.

When we gather, we brief the crowd on what is going to happen. We ask those present to participate in the liturgy. We place a small bowl of water exactly where the individual died. We draw close to one another and the worship leader begins:

Grace and Peace to all of you in the name of our loving God. We come together at this place and at this time in grief, acknowledging the tragic loss of (name of the victim), confessing that this tragedy is in part a failure to create a safe community that is humane, compassionate, and just. . .

We share scripture readings, then offer those gathered an opportunity to reflect. These are often powerful moments when friends and families speak; at other times no family or friends are present, but the sharing is equally poignant. As the sharing comes to an end, there is a litany and sometimes a song. Then the one or two people who have been assigned the priestly role of doing the blessing take the bowl of water. Using a small branch of greenery, they sprinkle water on the site and on those of us gathered together. The liturgist recites the following:

We come together this day to reclaim this space of death as a place of life . . . this place where violence occurred we are reclaiming as a place of life . . . this place that causes us fear, anger, and pain we are reclaiming as a place of hope and community.

Come, Spirit, to this place. As we sprinkle this water, come Spirit, and redeem this space and people from the violence and death that has occurred here. Return it as a safe place, a place of community, a place of life, a place of hope. Amen.

We close with a charge and benediction, but people rarely disperse very quickly. We stay together as community a while longer. Words of comfort are shared.

These are times when we connect as community. These are times when the Church is visible in a very special way. Just a few weeks ago, I stood in the cold rain with about twenty people outside a tavern on a county road near Mount Rainier. Men and women had put down their drinks and come outside to join us as we remembered one of their friends. One man stood a little off to the side. He was smoking a cigarette. As the group dispersed he came up to me and said, “God bless you for doing this.” I saw in his eyes how important it was to him that we had gathered there. I thanked him and then I thanked God for making this ministry possible.

This is an article written by network member David Alger, executive director of Associated Ministries of Tacoma / Pierce County and published in Ecu-Dialogue, Spring 2005. Used by permission

Interfaith talk about sexuality and family life

As part of its educational ministries, {United Churches of Lycoming County} participates each year in the Williamsport School District’s middle school and high school classes in health and family living through providing an interfaith panel who respond to questions from students about sexuality and family life. Gwen Bernstine, executive director, says that at least half of the questions are now faith- related. Faiths represented on the panel are determined in response to requests from school staff. They have been able to have similar panels related to world history classes.

A new interfaith center begins

The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia

What gives us hope in these times? In February of 2004, people of faith from Philadelphia and Jerusalem explored this question. On one side of the teleconference sat Muslims, Christians and Jews who said, “Being in relationship is our source of hope - our action for peace that defies incident after incident of violent fissures in our daily lives." On the other side of the table sat a Philadelphia interfaith group formed in 2001 in response to fears stirred by daily headlines. "We were compelled by our distinctive faith commitments to reach out and build bridges of reconciliation. Years later, we still leave the busyness of our hospitals, businesses, schools and religious institutions to gather monthly. It is the richness of these relationships, forged through dialogue, that draws us together and sustains our hope."

Crossing religious divides, while working together for the common good is at the heart of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, people of many faiths felt the urgency to join hands in the fight to re-build trust, hope, and safety among the citizens of our region. “We must be the change we wish to see,” as Gandhi said. Taking seriously the responsibility to create the society we want to live in, religious and community leaders in Philadelphia created an organization to envision and support the birth of a new day.

The mission of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia is to advance mutual trust, under standing and cooperation among faith communities in order to work together for the common good of the region.

Assessing the Need … Establishing the Center

Aware that other cities have reaped the benefits of having an Interfaith Center, a multi-faith Advisory Committee was formed in September 2003 to assess the need for creating such a Center in the Philadelphia area. The Advisory Committee began by identifying and meeting with heads of interfaith groups in our region, for the purpose of uncovering areas of continued and pressing need. We ascertained that Greater Philadelphia is in many ways a model of religious pluralism; diverse religious organizations and congregations live side by side respectfully.

At the same time, we discovered a crying need for meaningful interaction and communication among religious groups, and for ways to reduce woeful ignorance about faith traditions not our own. We also discovered that the multiple ecumenical and interfaith groups in Greater Philadelphia focus primarily on particular social issues, e.g. housing, hunger, immigration, early childhood education and aging. Until now, there has been no multi-faith organization in our region that is principally dedicated to interreligious dialogue, education, and community building at the grassroots and leadership levels.

In January 2004 the Center received its non-profit incorporation in Pennsylvania, and a year later, we received our 501(c)(3) Federal tax-exempt status.

Building Capacity through Collaboration

While the Interfaith Center is new, the Executive Director, its Officers and Board members bring a collective legacy of experience and achievements in interfaith relations work. The Board is comprised of leaders whose interfaith work has spanned Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Hindu and Sikh communities, as well as schools, neighborhoods, prisons, civic and governmental bodies, and college campuses.

Collaborative partnerships have already enhanced the capacity of the Interfaith Center. The Center shares office overhead with an innovative non-profit organization, the Arts & Spirituality Center, and is housed in the offices of the Philadelphia Cathedral. We were one of three cities nationwide to receive a grant from Religions for Peace, U.S.A. to help establish an Interreligious Leaders Council in Philadelphia, accompanied by consultations from Reverend Clark Lobenstine, an ordained Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of the Washington Interfaith Conference and Reverend Bud Heckman, Executive Director of Religions for Peace, U.S.A. Tabernacle United Church (Presbyterian-UCC) was the Center ’s fiscal sponsor in its first year of operation. The Center's best practices were informed by our participation in The Goldin Institute for International Partnership and Peace's Partner Cities Program.

The Interfaith Center’s capacity has been strengthened by graduate student interns from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work in our first two years of operation.

Program Highlights

Following is a glimpse of the highlights of the Interfaith Center’s early programming:

* Christian, Jewish and Muslim educators, each hoping to empower their students to better the world, are collaborating to design a “shared values” immersion experience for teens engaged in a year-long interfaith community service initiative
* Children from a Muslim, Catholic and pubic school who reside in the same North Philadelphia neighborhood, yet were strangers to one another, engaged in dialogue about their distinctive heritages, as they depicted their hopes for safety and peace in a community arts project;
* Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, yearning to be responsive to diverse patients at critical moments of care, gathered to learn how to meet the spiritual and religious needs of patients and families at the end of life;
* Law enforcement officials, community relations professionals and religious leaders seeking skills for defusing community tensions, joined together for a workshop led by the author of the United Nations training materials on conflict transformation;
* Over 250 people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds experienced the sacred tapestry of our great region, when they gathered to dedicate the Interfaith Center.

The Center’s largest initiative beginning this fall, is a collaboration of local synagogues, mosques and churches, and modeled after Chicago’s Interfaith Youth Core. Entitled “Walking the Walk: Values in Action,”  this Interfaith Youth Service Learning Initiative will be piloted in two urban Philadelphia neighborhoods. This project will engage 30 high school students from diverse religious backgrounds in a year-long opportunity to: strengthen their own identities; develop inter-group understanding; serve the community; and learn leadership skills.

Investing in the Vision: Sources of Funding

The Center is implementing a four-pronged strategy to achieve sustainable funding from a multi-faith individual donor base, foundations and corporations, religious organizations and congregations, and program income.

The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia is committed to creating innovative initiatives that will build strong and harmonious neighborhoods and workplaces. These times call upon us to model new ways to open hearts and minds to one another so that we can join hands to invest in the welfare of our region. Reflecting on a world beset by war, President Harry Truman said, “It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace.”

The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia is located at 3723 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, 215-222-1012. For more information, visit our web site, contact us at

Used by permission of Ecu-Dialogue. This article by Sherri Hausser and Abby Stamelman Hocky appeared in the Fall 2005 issue.

Using special dates to highlight CUIC relationships

For four years, the Council of Churches of Greater Springfield coordinated several ecumenical services that highlighted the relationship among members of Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). The Council of Churches serves the local churches of fourteen towns and cities of Hampden County. There are seventy congregations of CUIC member communions within this geographic area.

During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2003, the first CUIC Communion service was held. The series of ecumenical Communion services continued for the next three years on World Communion Sunday. For the past five years, during the week of Pentecost Sunday, additional ecumenical services were held, with specific invitations to the area CUIC congregations.

In Memphis, on the second Thursday of each month an ecumenical combined Clergy and Laity meeting is convened. CUIC Memphis holds at least two annual CUIC services of worship: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the first weekend in April, and World Communion Sunday.

The Missouri CUIC Coordinating Council, along with Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty, are sponsoring a Justice Weekend event for April. The goal of this event is to provide a public forum for denominational leaders to declare their common commitment to confront the sin of racism and to work for economic justice.

This article is abridged from articles in CUIC Notes, December 2006, page 3.. To see the full newsletter, click here.

© 2006 Ecumenical & Interfaith Network - PCUSA

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