Interfaith Opportunities


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March 2, 2016   Why did we join the Interfaith Opportunities Network?

  I joined ION because I so strongly believe that peace, harmony, communication, cooperation, and compassion are urgently needed in our troubled world, and our own communities, and that being an ION member representative from my church enables me to meet with individuals from other local faith groups who have the same desires, and that in our small way, ION can work together to forward these goals in our immediate world. If there was an ION in every location on the planet, war, strife, conflict, and man’s inhumanity to man could perhaps be halted or avoided entirely because most humans wish to coexist in peace, I deeply believe, regardless of their faith or philosophy of life.
                            Scottie—-Hope Church


Religion is a human endeavor and suffers as all human activities with mistakes, many examples of cruelty and misguided actions in the name of a quest for justice, peace and the divine. The diversity of religion’s expression makes possible a greater understanding. When we talk only to those who agree with us, who see the world with the same eyes, we reinforce that we are right and learn little about what we are missing, what we do not see.

I have heard that one of the justification of the Hebrew Midrash is that the word of God is too important to have only one interreptation. I have a similar sense that the mysteries of life are too great to be served by only one truth and that there is profit in many forms of Godly experience, that in diversity there is truth, that one religion would be intolerable and violent to truth. Religion is a human quest, a human understanding and like all human endeavers, prone to failure, error and corruption.

I was born into an inter denominal family, which in 1938, having a Protestant father and Roman Catholic mother was felt as not two branches of Christianity but two different faiths. I felt even as a child that there were happily many ways to relgious experience.
                    —-Frank Gatti___ Mt. Toby Quaker Friends Meeting
ing my My desire to join ION as a Newman Catholic Center volunteer was my genuine and overwhoverwhelming interest coupled with a compelling curiosity to learn more about other faith-based churches and organizations. I wanted to unwrap myself to the wealth of other religions external of my Catholic faith. In addition, I wanted to share information of interfaith community events with the Newman Catholic Center's Student and Adult Community members, as well as network with members of other faiths. And lastly, to promote faith-based activities and events at the Newman Center with ION members and their communities.
——Tommy____Newman Center


Attending the Amherst Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in 1990 was the first time I'd purposely gone to church in twenty-five years after becoming disillusioned in the mid-sixties. I can't remember what drew me to the interfaith service, but I was impressed by the language of the responsive readings, which I found out were written by Rev. Kenseth from South Church and there was also a powerful prayer written and given by Deene Clark, the chaplain at Amherst College. Although I had been interested in knowing about other faiths ever since I was a young person, I believe this was the first time I had been in a worship service with people of different faiths, and it simply felt right and good to me. In 2002, I discovered North Congregational Church and recognized that it would be my home church. At some point, I learned about the Interfaith Opportunities Network, and wanted North Church to be a part of that, so I went off to a meeting. I don't recall having any expectations. I went to find out what it was all about, and I've been there ever since. I feel that as an individual, I am strengthened by interfaith communication and activities, and I think that interfaith communication and activities also strengthen the community as a whole.
——Barbara Benda Jenkins

Thoughts about future of ION
I joined ION about 6 years ago at the invitation and urging off Lee Barstow who had been the first South Church ION representative. At the time I didn’t know what ION was or that our church was a member. Lee Barstow asked me because he knew that Will and I had recently returned from Turkey on a Gulen sponsored trip and that I had traveled there several times before including a trip to Turkey and Yugoslavia in 1965. My college interest in Byzantine art soon widened into an interest in Islamic art, history, and religion.

The earliest years of my membership was during a period that included a stronger Muslim presence in ION and the community, thanks in part to the Turkish UMass Rumi Club. South Church hosted several interfaith lectures, one on Islam and another on Judaism. I along with several South Church folks also attended area presentations focusing on Islam. We also joined the interfaith community at various Iftar dinners. These were particularly meaningful events. There is no doubt in my mind that my major interest was and is to gain a greater understanding of Islam and that ION has been the major vehicle providing such programs and events.

I am grateful that ION continues to share information about local and area programs of interfaith even though I cannot attend as many of those events as I might wish. Nevertheless, I feel such programs are increasing in number and breadth. It is this dissemination of information that I value most about ION.

The following are brief answers to the four areas of concern:

SHARE:  I see ION as the “gathering place” both literally and figuratively for sharing information about interfaith lectures and activities. This necessitates someone who is willing to be the receiver of those postings so that they may be forwarded in emails in a timely fashion as well as mentioned at our monthly meetings. I support Barbara’s idea of trying to include an ION corner in each congregation’s monthly newsletters. In addition, I would encourage all faith groups to have a “button” on their website to lead members to the ION website. Thanks to Bonnie and now to Dorothy, the website is an excellent way for us to share a rich variety of topics with our congregation and with those who are curios about the projects that we support.

LEARN:  I envision our monthly ION meetings to be less structured since no one has stepped forward to chair the group.  Often when reading a text, sharing a conversation, or watching something on a screen, I want to discuss the information with others. I am not sure how an ION “roundtable” would work, but I think such an exchange could be a valuable learning experience.
Also the Jones Library and CWMars own some DVDs that focus on faith groups that could spark meaningful conversations. One in particular, “Koran by Heart,” shown by the Jones several years ago, is one suggestion.

NETWORK:  Our meetings could also be an opportunity to invite a speaker to share something of interfaith interest such as the recent guests who spoke about Soup for Syria. Several of us attended the JCA gathering and others of us will advertise through our religious communities and beyond the Grace Episcopal Soup for Syria program planned for April 17 from 4:30 – 7:00 PM.

COMMUNICATE:  There are many opportunities to communicate an interfaith understanding if we are willing to engage. Some are comfortable wearing the “Francis is my Pope” button distributed by the Interfaith Eco group last fall and/or the “Standing with our Muslim Brothers and Sisters” that First Church has initiated.  Influenced by the ION community, we can find additional ways to learn from and engage in thoughtful, non-dogmatic conversations. Attending monthly meetings can serve as a sort of pep rally in the best sense of that concept.  Listing an interfaith event in our faith weekly service bulletins and following up at an after service coffee hour with an informal conversation is a good way to communicate. One person, one step at a time, can make a difference.

In summary, my growing interest in climate disruption and its impact on the world in the form of draughts, floods, starvation, illness, migration, etc. often result in conflicts that are labeled religious or ethnic in origin. It is this concern that has given birth to several groups that are interfaith-climate in focus and where, along with other climate groups, I am putting most of my energy.

 I would be more comfortable with an informal ION that could continue to inform me of the interfaith component while allowing me to feel that I could attend without the need to take a leadership position. I hope that we will continue to meet, to share conversation, to contribute meeting topics or speakers, to encourage the Interfaith Thanksgiving service, and to act as conduits with our faith groups and beyond. I greatly value this group and hope that we do continue as friendships made and understanding gained cannot be underestimated.
When I ask myself why I joined ION, three stories come to mind. In the late 1960s I lived in the south of France. I worked with a group called CIMADE. It was formed during World War II by French Protestants who were helping Jews escape the Nazis. It is active now working with prisoners and undocumented immigrants. The team I was on was trying to integrate Algerians who were escaping the Algerian War and had been given asylum iFrance. They were all Muslim but quietly so. I remember them as warm-hearted and hard- working and hospitable. That’s when I discovered couscous! The children we played games with are all grown up now. I think of them and wonder how they are. In Chicago I taught French in a Catholic school. One of my students, Naheed, was Pakistani. She fit in beautifully. I remember her in her typical Catholic school plaid skirt and long socks bringing treats from the Dunkin’ Donuts her father owned. She would talk about her mosque and her Shiite Girl Scout troop and nobody thought it was odd. The last I heard she wanted to go to medical school. I wonder about her, too. A couple of years ago I visited what we Christians call the Holy Land. It is a place of pain and beauty. It is a place in great need of tolerance and understanding of “the other”. I often think of the Palestinian Christians we visited. Since I’ve been a member of Ion, I’ve been able to alert my church community of many events and programs in this area. Also, we will be holding a Soup for Syria event later in April.
*****************************************************************************Our faith calls us to be a blessing to others, and one way to do that is to foster peace through understanding of and respect for all faiths.  I joined ION as a representative of my worship community because its calm and reasoned voice does so on both an individual and community level. 

I joined ION to learn more about other faiths and to work together on issues important to us to effect change, however small as I believe in the ripple effect.——-Mary Beth  
My reason for joining ION is based in my firm belief that we are all loved by The One God, the source of our being, and infinitely bonded as one.  No effort to foster union in diversity is too small or too grand.  ION offers that
opportunity.   ——-Miriam


     Why I joined ION  in 2009

My primary purpose was to represent Islam and my Muslim community; to share my faith
with the other members from the other local faith communities and the surrounding area. The intention was and still is to share “what Islam and Muslims believe and practice” and to combat all the negative media and actions of those using Islam for their own personal agenda.
The second purpose was to learn about other Abrahamic faiths as we all follow the same
One True God and to understand the similarities and uniqueness of each faith. How each member was practicing and getting to know them a bit more each month.

I liked the informality of the monthly meetings, to hear what the other faith communities
were doing, showing support when needed and taking actions. Definitely preferred that we
were a conduit for sharing Interfaith information and not an action group.

The range of announcements/events that are circulated to ION members provided a richness to choose from.

As an immigrant, participating in such a Network gave me a sense of comfort and support and rootedness. It was another avenue for my interfaith outreach and community building.——Naz Mohamed   *******************************************************************

Why I choose to be on the network and how to share with the wider community?

I come to meet other people of faith. To hear/learn/share our faith journeys and questions with “soul-mates” people who care to make sense of our call to follow God and to live in this troubled wonderful world.  I want to know you and for you to know me. I rejoice at this opportunity.

I believe my responsibility to my faith community is to share any information about events, speakers, programs which help to build connections and understanding between people of different faiths, in other words, to share current events.

I do not come to create more activities/tasks for myself or anyone else.
                        Dorothy: First Congregational Church of Amherst

What an amazing opportunity to learn more from someone who knows.  In this world of misunderstandings, we have the chance to better understand. In this world that needs better neighbors, we have the chance to be better neighbors.  Come, be informed, ask your questions!  Right in the center of Amherst! See flyer above :-)
Lilly Endowment makes grants to encourage youth to explore theology!