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Developing an Interfaith Family

Rev. Paul Chaffee of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio (and of the InterfaithNews.Net Advisory Board, among other affiliations), writes about the Interfaith Family Circle, "a new kind of model for generating and supporting interfaith relations in any local community."

By Paul Chaffee
Interfaith Center at the Presidio

Designed for Diversity

The Interfaith Center at the Presidio is developing a self-organizing group of people representing the religious, cultural diversity of our world who regularly gather to develop friendships, pray and reflect, celebrate their differences, and explore the concerns they share.

By contrast, of course, most worshiping communities congregate around a shared history and tradition, a set of beliefs and a special story, often conveyed in holy scripture.

Based on Caring Relationships

What we are calling the Interfaith Center's Family Circle is not an alternative but an adjunct to the church, temple, or mosque. The group provides a sacred intersection, a time and place where people from all faiths can share dialogue and spiritual practice. Circle activities promote learning spiritually about ourselves and others in an open, safe, 'non-partisan,' appreciative environment.

As a gathering community we have no creed or statement of faith, leaving that to each of us individually. Members and guests are invited to use the community as a place to pursue their own convictions and questions with similarly questing people from diverse backgrounds. There is an assumption that participants respect and care about each other, joining in dialogue without feeling compelled to agree about issues or change anyone’s mind. Hearing faith journeys is a staple of Circle activities.

The group seeks to be a non-judgmental community for the alienated to heal, the weary to be rejuvenated, the satisfied to be challenged, and the unaffiliated to frame their own journey. The group might also be a home to the growing number of individuals who find that they are "spiritual" but not necessarily "religious" and appreciate the opportunity to join in community with kindred spirits. At the same time, members and guests are encouraged to stay connected to their own traditions, taking back home an appreciation of what can be learned in an interfaith context.

Grounded in Shared Values

The Center's Family Circle is not a new religion, nor does it try to identify or serve a lowest common spiritual denominator. Instead the community offers a sacred meeting place where we can personally and appreciatively explore the diversity we represent while working to improve the world and the whole human family. We tend away from identifying and focusing on convergences except ethically, as in the Golden Rule that most traditions treasure. A few additional shared values and commitments set the tone and context for the interfaith community:

  • Mutual respect is the currency of the Family Circle.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is affirmed as the necessary groundwork for humankind’s health and vitality.
  • Circle members commit themselves to promote daily, enduring interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings. (From the Charter of the United Religions Initiative).

Cultivating Interfaith Practice

The group’s activities, including shared worship, are typically planned and led by people from several traditions. Each participant speaks out of his or her own personal background in a context where all traditions and individuals are respected and honored. We are open to all points of view, theistic and atheistic, spiritual and material, rational and imaginative.

A worship and hospitality group plans services; typically they include silence, meditation, and prayer; stories, readings, and reflections; and music, including singing and chanting.

Self-organizing classes, support groups, projects, meditation and prayer groups, and social events are expected to emerge.

A priority commitment among the Circle's founders is providing educational opportunities that focus on the essence and 'best' of the different traditions we represent; on ways to generate dialogue and healthy relations among and within these traditions; and on skills for cultivating friendship and community-building among strangers.

Worship & Dialogue Guidelines

Those who attend services are invited to participate, to simply observe, or to leave and take some time out. Shared religious practice should never be coerced.

  • Offer everyone the same respect and dignity you hope to receive.
  • Listen to the other person with enough care to begin to discern the "positive core," the life-giving energy, in his or her faith and practice.
  • Speak from the heart, not to make a point but to build understanding and relationship

Joining the Interfaith Family

SPONSOR – The Family Circle is one of many Interfaith Center at the Presidio projects. The Interfaith Center is an umbrella organization of 20 Bay Area interfaith sponsoring organizations. The Center cares for and manages the Main Post Chapel in the Presidio, where the Circle holds its activities.

FOUNDERS – The Family Circle was created by interfaith activists connected to the Center who seek a spiritual connection with this interreligious community on a regular basis, a sacred sense of time and space shared with brothers and sisters from different backgrounds. The group also hopes to welcome the unaffiliated, offering a supportive way-station rather than a particular map for their spiritual journey.

Because the founders do not want to create a new religion, the group develops its own mission and outreach activities around the multiple programs the Interfaith Center sponsors with ecumenical and interfaith groups. The Family will raise funds and generate programs, not as a congregation, but as part of and in support of Interfaith Center activities.

PARTICIPANTS – The group welcomes to worship and table any visitor who comes with good-will and respect.

The group welcomes into membership good-willed people who affirm the values and mission of the Center.

Members understand that the Circle has no creed or faith of its own, has no hierarchy, is not a church or temple or mosque, but instead a regular gathering place for people of faith and practice everywhere.

A NEW MODEL – The hope is that the Family Circle becomes a new kind of model for generating and supporting interfaith relations in any local community. The group's founders have no interest in becoming another national organization or alternative denomination. But they would be delighted if similar circles developed support for existing or nascent interfaith activities in their own communities. Following this model means identifying and supporting the existing interfaith groups in your own neighborhood.

The Interfaith Center's Family Circle model identifies and engages individuals who passionately agree with the Catholic theologian Hans Küng when he said, "There will be no peace among nations until there is peace among religions, and there will be no peace among religions until there is dialogue among religions." The Circle seeks to provide ongoing, dynamic intersections where different traditions can be in regular dialogue with each other, and where the religiously alienated, unaffiliated, and uneducated can find a friendly home and a safe place to grow.

Additionally, the Circle's founders want to provide an ongoing opportunity for people who passionately care about interfaith relations to become serious donors and volunteers making a difference starting in their own communities.

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2 Responses to “Developing an Interfaith Family”

  1. » On June 15th, 2005 at 9:56 pm Jim Wiggins Said:

    I am deeply impressed by this development and will be seeking more information about it. Thanks for posting it.

  2. » On July 5th, 2005 at 3:53 pm Rev. Marci DeVier Said:

    Dear Friend of Interfaith Development,

    I began Interfaith Center here in this heart land in 1996 and continue to connect, dialogue and share with many religions and Spiritual Paths.

    I stand with you as an Interfaith Minister and totally believe in this age of Transfromation. We each must look for what is breaking through instead of looking at the many things in this physical world that are breaking down. It is critical that many of us continue to hold a High Vision, and express it in our life on this beautiful Blue Planet.There are many Loving Progressive caring people that choose to live in harmony. We must remember, it is a call to action and coming togerther in communitys of Harmony and cooperation for the many diverse Religions and remember there is One God, One Spirit and many Paths to God.

    With Peace and Joyous Blessings,

    Rev. Marci DeVier Interfaith Center 4006 West Broadway Columbia, Missouri, 65203 (in the heart land of these United States.)


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