December 18, 2021
Day 21: Dialogue (Intercultural/Interfaith)
The suburb where the church I serve is located happens to be one of the most diverse, multicultural, multi-ethnic areas of the Chicago suburbs. The two high schools that serve that suburb are among the most diverse – in terms of languages spoken, countries of origin and ethnicities – in the country.
All that is to say that the place where I serve is a marvelous place and space for intercultural and interfaith dialogue. And, I’ve done my best to reach out to diverse friends, neighbors and community members in the years I have been pastor at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove.
In November 2016, I was invited to be a panel discussant at an interfaith discussion on Empowering Diverse Voices at the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove. This was shortly after the national election of 2016, and many people in our area were very shaken by the heightened rhetoric and attitudes of different groups, nationwide. At that panel, I offered an opportunity for interfaith friends to come together in what I called a monthly gathering for prayer and mutual support.
I was so humbled and gratified to have a diverse group of between 12 and 16 people gather for the next 12 months at the church for these Interfaith Gatherings. These were folks from different groups, diverse faith communities (and a few with no faith affiliation), and of multiple cultures. They gathered to talk, to listen, to support each other, and to pray. For some meetings, we had a definite focus. For others, merely an opportunity for warm fellowship and sharing.
Since I had previously served as a chaplain at a busy urban hospital in Chicago (which was also in quite a diverse, multicultural area), I felt comfortable in such a setting. I suspect my comfort and less-anxious presence aided the open sharing and caring that quickly developed in this Interfaith Gathering group.
Several positive outcomes developed from this Gathering. St. Luke’s Church hosted two community Iftars: one in June 2017, seven months after the beginning of the monthly Gathering, and another in May 2018, several months after the Gatherings concluded. These Iftars were opportunities for the wider community to come together, to learn together, and to enjoy breaking bread with a diverse group of people. I made some lasting friendships from those many months of coming together! And, I was honored to serve as host and facilitator for not only the Interfaith Gatherings, but also the Community Iftars and Outreach Programs in both 2017 and 2018.
I’ve done a number of interfaith events before and since. I do not know what or how God will direct me in the future. I am saying, “Here I am. I am available.” And, I really mean that.
O Holy One, thank You for Your marvelous diversity in this wonderful world. Thank You for bringing these diverse cultures and ethnicities together in such places like urban settings. But, wherever it is, wherever different people encounter each other, bring forth a comfort level and less-anxious presence. Thank You for open sharing and caring among different people. And, thank You for Your creative diversity, within all You have created here on earth. Thank You for everything.
Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.