Youth in the U.S. often experience camps as a venue for faith development. Newer communities in the U.S., such as Hindus, have adopted camping as a means for providing fellowship and education. It is in this context that interfaith camping should be viewed.
The Puget Sound Interfaith Youth Camp in Washington State is now accepting applications for its second year, with a camp to be held on August 26-31, 2007. The camp is a collaborative effort of Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County; Interfaith Works of Olympia; People for Peace, Justice and Healing, a group that meets at Associated Ministries; the Baha'is; the Islamic Center of Olympia; Soka Gakkai International; Temple Beth El, a Reform Jewish congregation in Tacoma; and the YMCA camp of Pierce County, Camp Seymour, where the camp is held. The coalition came together in 2005 to watch a film documenting a camp in North Carolina that brought together Christian, Jewish, and Muslim boys after 9/11. After meeting for several months, the group decided to launch a camp that would be for both boys and girls, serve children entering the 7th and 8th grades, and welcome campers of all religions. The first camp occurred in 2006.
Now, according to its own criteria, the camp will take applications and then select campers on an equitable basis, hoping to serve roughly ten Christians, ten Muslims, ten Jews, and twenty from other traditions. Counselors, aged 18 to 24, will come from the major religions represented at the camp. Older adults, up to age 65, also helped at the 2006 camp. While the first camp was a pioneering effort that had special funding, campers will have to pay minimal fees in 2007. Sponsors want to include qualified campers, whether or not they can pay, so donations are being received to provide assistance as needed.
While the attempt is to provide children with a general camp experience in which they can interact with one another, there is a distinct effort to address interfaith concerns. Small group sessions focus on subjects such as stereotyping and faith in the media, resolving conflict, expressing one's own faith, exploring other faiths, struggles with living one's faith in school, and earning to listen well with respect. Each evening after dinner and before campfire, one of the religious groups may present an overview of its beliefs and practices, with time for questions. Finally, there is a question box where campers may place questions anonymously and hear the answers daily. The interfaith programming of the Puget Sound Interfaith Youth Camp is based on four goals: to increase awareness of differing faith perspectives, to build pathways to communication and respect, to develop leadership skills, and to build pathways to justice and peace.
The source for this information was supplied by our network leadership team's chair, David Alger, who is director of Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County.
An interfaith creation festival
Seattle event says, "It's not over when it's over!"
The Seattle Interfaith Creation Festival is a four-day event on May 31-June 3, 2007, that has a longer view of the task ahead. The festival publicity says, "The time has come for people of faith to join together in honoring the gift of creation by fostering a world based on sustainability and justice." Planned by a group of volunteers from the three Abrahamic faiths, the festival itself will take place at four Seattle locations and will address the "crucial issues of our time." Community partners / sponsors are considered to be at the heart of the planning for fulfillment of the festival objectives. These will be congregations or organizations that seek opportunities to work with others in supporting lifestyle changes, social policies, and structures that are committed to sustainability and justice. These groups are asked to provide in-kind services. Donations have been sought, and the B'nai B'rith Community Services Foundation is the fiscal agent for the event. The Presbytery of Seattle's social justice and peace committee is one of the sponsoring organizations.
An examination of the schedule of events gives some indication of the mix of events for the four festival days, often offered simultaneously -- workshops, a youth program and a children's program, arts space, a conversation cafe, exhibits, celebrations, and worship in three traditions on their worship days. The closing event of the festival will be a launch pad for the future: a luncheon and visioning session for a Year of Action and Dialogue projected to grow out of the four days.
Registration for the festival is encouraged, but no one will be turned away for lack of ability to pay its suggested donation of $10/day for adults. Meals are served but attendees are free to bring their own food with them.
The festival's attractive web site seeks to accommodate its audiences by providing brief resources in each of the three traditions -- Islamic, Jewish, and Christian -- plus information about an interfaith project already in progress.
The source for this information was supplied by our network member Joyce Manson.
Local interfaith work expanding
Valuing G-d's Garden: Creating an Interfaith Bouquet
The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion began its life as a local group of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice). It has expanded greatly over the years, today involving many communities. It observes the weekend of May 4-6, 2007, as its Interfaith Weekend -- a time to recognize differences intentionally and to draw near to each other. Congregations already committed to the weekend are Muslim, Protestant Christian, Hindu, Latter-day Saint, Catholic Christian, Jewish, Christian Scientist, Sikh, and Unity. Its theme will be "Valuing G-d's Garden: Creating an Interfaith Banquet," using the imagery of myriad flowers brought together into a beautiful bouquet. In celebration of the weekend, there will be open houses at places of worship and materials have been created for use within particular faith communities in their own worship and education. Religious leaders in congregations throughout southeastern Michigan will look toward bridging faith traditions and creating a more cohesive interfaith community.
Rabbi David Nelson has been teaching the value of interfaith relations for 35 years in metropolitan Detroit. Community service, he says, is perhaps the best avenue for people of different faiths to understand each other. "When we come together we are much stronger." The rabbi cited the help made available to St. Mary's Assyrian Catholic Church in Warren when its new building was recently defaced by anti-Arab graffiti in a situation almost certainly involving mistaken identication of people who are neither Muslim nor Arabic speakers. By contrast, this Interfaith Weekend will be the first time that Msgr. Ricardo Bass discusses interfaith relations with his Catholic congregation in West Bloomfield. Bass comes from a non-Catholic family and hence sees the importance of understanding the common elements of Christian faith that are shared; this has led to seeing common elements among the Abrahamic traditions.
Interfaith Partners, a 6-year-old grassroots network sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable, has provided materials for religious leaders. Congregations will also be asked to support the Michigan Roundtable's "Walk2gether Michigan," a walkathon on May 20 that benefits the Michigan Roundtable's youth diversity programs and supports the Roundtable's interfaith work. Other programs that the Roundtable supports directly or co-sponsors include the Reuniting the Children of Abraham Project , the World Sabbath for Religious Reconciliation, interfaith Thanksgiving and arts programs, service projects, an annual Worldviews Seminar at the University of Michigan-Dearborn , an annual Interfaith Retreat, preparation of a yearly interfaith calendar, and efforts to deal with racism, sexism, and religious diversity in the workplace.The Michigan Roundtable provides staff support and other services for Interfaith Partners.
Information was provided through William Gepford, a network member who has participated in the work of the Roundtable for many years.
Meeting and Empowering Neighbors
Speaking Across Differences
The Dialogue Project's web site says, "Speaking Across Differences brings Arab and Muslim new immigrants and citizens into dialogue with long time residents of other faiths and ethnicities. This exciting neighbor to neighbor program develops community and tears down walls of suspicion about people who are 'different.'" The Dialogue Project's founder, director, and board president is Marcia Kannry, a Jewish American who is a former executive director of the Jewish National Fund and who traveled throughout Israel and the occupied territories during the first intifada.
Recently 150 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Brooklynites gathered for a Speaking Across Differences program. After eating and chatting together, they broke into pairs. There followed a structured conversation of partners:
- Tell your partner your first name and something about its language of origin, its meaning, and your personal story related to it.
- If you are an immigrant or new to the neighborhood, share an early experience with long-time residents or about coming to the neighborhood. If you are a longtime resident, tell about your first encounter with an immigrant or describe what is changing in the neighborhood.
After partners were each given two minutes to respond, several members of the audience told others about the experience of their partners. Next, a theater team played their own stories plus stories of others from the group.
The intention of Speaking Across Differences is to encourage people to make a "disciplined decision to listen to what somebody else has to say," based on the idea that people will discover they share more in common than they think.
The Dialogue Project says that dialogue is"a balance of advocacy and inquiry." Advocacy they define as reasoning with supportive data. Inquiry, they say, involves a suspension of reason that exposes one's mental models and gives another person a window to one's self. They say good dialogue requires each person to contribute, even if with only half-formed ideas; in a good dialogue, participants stay with it even when their beliefs are challenged.
Local Jewish-Muslim dialogue that survives Middle East crises
Following a model that has much to teach others, on Long Island (New York) a small group of Muslims and Jews have sustained dialogue for the past fifteen years, no matter what the crises in the Middle East have been. The dialogue centered in Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, a Reform synagogue, and the Islamic Center of Long Island, began through the initiative of Rabbi Jerome Davidson, who is retiring in June, and is being honored not only by his Jewish community but also by Muslims.
Davidson, realizing how little he and his congregation knew about Muslims, asked a member of the synagogue who had dialogue experience if she would help get something started. She contacted an Islamic center where she met the man who became the prime mover for the dialogue from the Muslim side. The model they have used has involved family-to-family dialogue, held in homes, starting with honest discussions about the beliefs of each religion. From small groups, the effort moved on to include the full congregations of the synagogue and mosque, with joint celebrations during Sukkot and Ramadan. A recent by-product of the relationships has been defense of the mosque when it has been accused in extremist charges.
Newsday writes, "Despite global geopolitical turmoil that has put Jews and Muslims in confrontation, this local dialogue has survived and prospered because it is built on trust and friendship at the level of family."
One can only assume this model has led to a general openness when one reads their synagogue's bulletin for the period around Easter and discovers a plea for the synagogue's members to assist in getting people in a nursing home in their area to Mass for Easter! The bulletin says children as well as adults are welcome for this work, so long as they are able to push a wheelchair.
“Hear Our Stories, Know Our Names”
“Our society tends to be more and more separated by economic class,” says Dolores Vail, [Maine Council of Churches] Economic Justice Program Director. “What is lacking is a meeting place where we can find common ground. That is the beginning of loving our neighbors as ourselves — recognizing people as being ‘our neighbors’ in the first place.”
The Maine Council of Churches’ drama about homelessness, “Hear Our Stories, Know Our Names,” written and performed by Mainers who have been or are homeless themselves, fulfills this need by bringing people from widely different backgrounds together, helping us recognize one another as neighbors. It is a first step to building sustainable communities in which no one is hungry, cold, jobless, or homeless. The Council’s goal is to bring this important story about homelessness to every part of the state.
More than fifty congregations have made possible over thirty performances from York to Bar Harbor, seen by thousands. Betty Wurtz, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick, was part of a collaborative effort by seven churches that brought a performance of the play to the Theater Project in Brunswick. Betty describes this experience as one that was particularly meaningful. “Most intriguing of all is hearing people who are homeless speak with their own voices about their experiences. I helped make the performance in Brunswick happen and that was most meaningful to me.” Betty believes that coalition-building is one of the Maine Council of Churches’ most valuable contributions to the state. “Working together, the Council bridges gaps to make things happen in the Legislature and in the community. When churches and others do this together they succeed, and I appreciate that.”
This article is taken from the Maine Council of Churches’ April 2006 Newsletter, with permission. For more information, send an e-mail. To read a newspaper report, click here.
Amazing Faiths of Houston meals
In the Pluralism Project newsletter of March 29, 2007, Diana Eck reports that she has recently been in Houston and heard about various
initiatives, including the Amazing Faiths of Houston dinner dialogues, "a program in which 250 citizens participated in interfaith dinners in some 20 homes across the city. It was enthusiastically received and there are plans to double participation in the next round of dinner parties!"
Using a book -- The Amazing Faith of Texas by Roy Spence -- as inspiration, the Amazing Faiths of Houston project gathered small groups in homes to share a meal, their faith, and exploration of their common values. A centralized organizational system received registrations of participants, arranged for grouping to achieve maximum diversity, and prepared brief guidelines. Each group had a trained facilitator present who used specially designed dialogue cards, derived from the Spence book, to lead the conversation. Planners recommended a simple meal and indicated the specific restrictions -- no alcohol nor pork whatsoever, a vegetarian option if any meat is served.
The guidelines for the two-hour evening say, "Be prepared to listen more than to talk. When your turn comes, share from your heart. You will not be asked to share anything uncomfortable or too private for you. The evening as a whole, however, might take you out of your "comfort zone" . . . . The guidelines also say that anyone is invited to participate, people of all faiths or no faith, as long as they come in a spirit of tolerance and respect.
Note: Another small home dinner experience of dialogue -- MultiFaith Tables of Eight -- is described on the web site of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio.
Enabling affordable housing for working people
A group of clergy -- Protestant and Catholic Christians and Jewish -- have signed the certificate of incorporation for the Toms River [New Jersey] Workforce Housing Community Land Trust; they will seek tax exempt status and receive contributions. They are taking these steps after having decided that their township's housing is too expensive for working people. In response to the problem, they have adopted a land trust model to work toward a long-term solution. The trust will retain ownership of the property a home stands on, and those who live in it will purchase the actual home; the home buyers will have a 99-year lease on the property. When a home is sold, the initial buyer will receive the equity on the house, but the land will remain with the trust. The Asbury Park Press reports that they say there are a hundred such workforce housing communities across the U.S. The ceremony to establish the trust in Toms River took place in the community's Presbyterian church.
Empowering former refugees to serve new arrivals
The National Council of Churches, at its General Assembly in November 2006, honored the Virginia Council of Churches (VCC) for its refugee resettlement program, an affiliate of Church World Service. VCC, the largest resettlement provider in Virginia in 2004 and 2005, resettles some 500-600 refugees a year. Former refugees are empowered to achieve their potential as business and community leaders who then become part of a network of support for new refugees. Former refugees and asylum seekers are also placed in important leadership positions in the resettlement program. Not only did the NCC honor VCC but it also recognized Akok Deng individually for his work as the Maryland Program Coordinator of the VCC program. Mr. Deng has modeled "perseverance in [his] own life journey," the NCC said. He was a refugee from Sudan in Egypt then, after coming to the U.S. in 1999, worked as a dishwasher, cabinet maker and salesperson before joining the VCC program in 2001 as a caseworker and later coordinator.
A CUIC model for discussing racism and acting on learnings
CUIC has provided suggested steps for congregations that want to identify and combat racism in their communities:
Step 1: Identify a problem in the community, such as rerouting of a transit line, closing of a hospital, or the institution of new voting procedures.
Step 2: Identify the decision makers in the situation.
Step 3: Ask who is affected by the decision.
Step 4: Ask who is advantaged by the decision and who is disadvantaged.
Step 5: Ask, "In what ways does our faith and our commitment to combat racism challenge us to respond?"
(This is an abridgement of an article in CUIC Notes, March 2007, page 4. To see the full newsletter, click here.
Sponsoring a prison ministry of presence
Man-to-Man, known as M-2, recruits, screens,and orients men who are matched with prisoners at the South Dakota State Penitentiary or one of its satellites, whom they visit regularly. The South Dakota Council of Churches sponsors the program, which asks church-affiliated men to engage in visits in a spirit of friendship -- not as counselor, preacher, or businessman but simply as a friend. M-2 holds orientation sessions bi-monthly, then an "Access Form" is submitted and approved, and the new friends are introduced inside the prison.
The men commit to visiting with one prisoner until he is "out the gate' through parole, transfer, or completion of a sentence. They visit for roughly an hour each time, several times a month, if possible. They are told, "To a prison inmate who has nothing and no one, a relationship is so important that if an "outsider" only plans one visit a month, but skips several, the inmate wonders if he cares."
Don Klassen is the coordinator of the program. He says,
"M-2 sponsors are valuable because they have found forgiveness and are at peace with God, with others, and with themselves, and are willing to offer forgiveness to others. Because the people here represent a variety of interests, M-2 sponsors who represent various vocations and interesting hobbies can have meaningful communications. Prison visitation is Kingdom work."
Man-to-Man began in 1972 and has been endorsed by successive wardens since. It received a citation from the President's Points of Light volunteer action awards in 1994.
Talking and working together across difficult divides
Teenage encounter: Face to Face / Faith to Faith
Auburn Seminary's Face to Face/Faith to Faith program brings together future leaders, teenagers who come from historically opposed religious/ethnic/ racial groups in some highly volatile situations -- South Africa, Ireland, Israel, Palestine. Former moderator Rick Ufford-Chase describes his experience with the program on his blog site, saying it is a model worth replicating. Rick's description:
"The idea is pretty simple, really, though the logistics and the group dynamics are quite challenging. Students from the participating countries must be sixteen to eighteen years old to participate for the first time. They are chosen for their diversity, their commitment to their faith, their location in places of violence in the world, and their openness to energetically engage those who are different."
The program works to provide a neutral ground for participants to engage in sustained dialogue, communication skills building, collaboration, and service learning; to help participants understand how their own and others' religious traditions can be used to build a more just, peaceful world; and to assist them in taking peace initiatives in their home communities. The year-long program has two segments. Participants begin with a two-week summer intensive, followed by a year of supervised community programming and continued dialogue in their home countries.
Explore other aspects of Face to Face/Faith to Faith on the web.
The Face to Face/Faith to Faith program has been developed under the leadership of Presbyterian Katharine Henderson, executive vice president of Auburn Seminary.
The Interfaith Encounter Association in Israel
The Interfaith Encounter Association's (IEA) web site reminds its readers that interfaith dialogue was established in Israel in the late 1950s by a small group of visionaries, including Martin Buber. Nonetheless, it notes, a very small number of individuals have recognized that, without dialogue, the stability of society is threatened. The vision of those who established the IEA is a society in which the "otherness of the other" is not only accepted but respected and understood. It wants to draw in more people and to use interactive models that will bring about long-term change.
A recent report describes the efforts being made in the multireligious village of M'ghar, where there have been local violent events between Christians and Druze. The initiative is rather unique since it is a direct response to a problem and includes no Jews. Fifteen residents each from three separate neighborhoods -- Muslim, Christian, and Druze -- have met for five sessions each, facilitated by a professional. Every group has started working in its neighborhood and has selected its coordinator. On March 14, 2007, the three smaller groups met jointly for the first time. Now the larger group will meet every two weeks for ten encounters.
On March 28, when the three groups met again, they had joint training and selected a joint committee. The plan is to have an elected committee representing all three communities that will plan and lead future activities. Sheikhs represent the Druze community, imams of the mosques represent the Muslims, and honored leaders represent the Christian neighborhood.
IEA has networked internationally in multiple ways. It serves as a Multiple Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative (URI), is a member group of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), and is an affiliate member of the Council of Centers of Jewish-Christian Relations. Its Jerusalem programs are part of the Partner Cities Network of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions (CPWR). The IEA director is Yehuda Stolov (pictured). Interviews with Stolov are reported by the Global Dialogue Center and by Just Vision.
Developing peace education for Pakistan's madrassas
A program officer of the Religion and Peacemaking program of the United States Institute of Peace, an independent U.S. institution funded by Congress, recently undertook the difficult task of offering a five-day symposium on peace education to religious scholars and madrassa educators in Pakistan. The madrassas educators felt isolated, under pressure, and suspicious. Sharing family histories over meals helped build trust and respect. The educators were not enthusiastic about adding a new item to their current curriculum but became very active in brainstorming how peace education could be integrated into their existing programs. On the last day, several scholars offered to take the group's draft and develop a manual for the madrassas to use. The Religion and Peacemaking program officer planned to coordinate with these scholars so that they could serve as trainers for the manual they prepared. As the program officer worked within the madrassa tradition and built upon their knowledge, he concluded, "You go in there with a clear idea of what you're going to bring to the workshop and how the lectures will lead to a certain discussion, but the participants end up teaching you so much more."
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