Year-End Review 2013

The Rev. Susan Sims Smith
Interfaith Center Executive Director

Sophia Said
Associate Director, Interfaith Dialogue and Education

Sarah Catherine Gutierrez
Associate Director, Programs and Outreach

Dear Friends of the Interfaith Center,

We just completed our second year which is best described as an anchoring year. We inventoried the events and services from 2012 that had the highest community impact for the investment of time and resources and grew those in 2013. In addition, we added two very exciting new efforts aimed at growing and fostering interfaith leadership and participation.

Let’s start with our anchoring efforts.

Interfaith Leaders Mini Retreat and Luncheon: On Tuesday, May 7 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at St. Margaret’s we hosted our second annual mini-retreat and luncheon for leaders in the interfaith community. Each representative reported our interfaith efforts in the prior year and brainstormed unmet interfaith needs in the community. During that brainstorming session, a rich dialogue between a Palestinian Muslim leader and an Orthodox Rabbi took place about the automatic profiling of the Muslim gentleman’s children following the Boston Marathon bombing. They wondered if there was something that could be done to educate people in the community to prevent unfair religious profiling after violent attacks. This spawned the idea to form an interfaith rapid response team. We will discuss this further under new initiatives.

Compassion in Action: On September 11, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. the Arkansas House of Prayer and the Interfaith Center teamed up for the 2nd Annual Compassion in Action service. The service was held in the sanctuary of St. Margaret’s (due to rain) and featured special musical performances by Cody Belew, John Willis, the Psalm 150 choir and a chanters and musicians representing Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Baha’i faiths. The Rev. Susan Sims Smith addressed the crowd and gave the “why” to interfaith work in our community. The event was an extraordinary gathering of over 400 participants from the major world religions.

Common Table: An effort by the Interfaith Center volunteer and participant, Dora Jane Flesher, was beta tested in 2013 and confirmed to be a very meaningful experience for all those involved. Couples from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths gathered every two months at each other’s homes for fellowship and discussion of their respective faiths. The experience was so meaningful that Dora Jane and the Interfaith Center are anchoring this effort and will be forming new Common Table groups in 2014.

Now on to our new efforts.

Interfaith Participants lunch: On Tuesday, July 16 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Downtown library, the Interfaith Center invited 5 different interfaith organizations to present ways for the community to get involved in interfaith efforts. These included the Daughters of Abraham Book Club, JCA’s Our Town, the Turkish Raindrop House, the Arkansas House of Prayer, and the Interfaith Center’s Common Table, Multi-Faith Youth Group and Muslim-Christian dialogue. Over 60 people attended the lunch, and we anticipate this event growing each year.

Muslim Christian dialogue and other speaking engagements: Following the enthusiastic response of participants who witnessed a fish bowl dialogue between Sophia Said and the Rev. Susan Sims Smith in 2012, Muslim-Christian dialogue is now a formal offering of the Interfaith Center. Sophia and Susan will engage in these dialogues with faith and community congregations around the state. In 2013, Sophia had a total of 10 speaking engagements on behalf of the Interfaith Center.

Interfaith Rapid Response Team: Following the unmet needs discussion at the Interfaith Leaders mini-retreat, the Rapid Response Team was created. The purpose of the Interfaith Rapid Response Team is to make a public statement representing the interfaith community in condemning a tragic incident at a local, national or international level and speaking out against violence. The core group of interfaith leaders include the Rev. Steve Copley of the Interfaith Alliance, the Rev. Susan Sims Smith of the Interfaith Center, Sophia Said of the Interfaith Center, Anna Cox of the Ecumenical Buddhist Society, Ret. Rabbi Gene Levy of Temple B’Nai Israel, and Siva Soora of the Hindu community. The group has established that anytime a tragic incident occurs at a local, national or international level, where the blame is ascribed to the incident based on religious stereotyping, a statement is needed. The statement will express compassion and healing for all who have been harmed by the tragic incident as well as insight into the highest principles of the major world religions to discourage prejudicial stereotyping of faith groups.

The anchoring year gives us our core events, workshops and programs that help reduce the hatred and fear among the world religions. It is our hope to continue to expand and build on our core for 2014. We are already planning the “Let’s Pray” retreat, which is a day-long retreat on Saturday, January 25, 2014 and features teachers of meditation from four of the major world religions.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

The Rev. Susan Sims Smith
Sophia Said
Sarah Catherine Gutierrez

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