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Local Groups which promote Interfaith Dialog

GROUPS, ASSOCIATIONS, SEMINARIES...

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Sponsored link.

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Local Interfaith Groups:

There are probably dozens if not hundreds of community interfaith groups in North America. However, they are difficult to locate and study  because they tend to be only known locally. They do not usually have Web pages or advertise outside of their community. Some are:

bulletAmes Interfaith Council in Iowa, at: http://amesinterfaithcouncil.blogspot.com/ 
bulletBerkeley Area Interfaith Council
bulletFriends in Faith (Northern VA) email at: 74734.2556@compuserve.com
bulletInterfaith Center at the Presidio at: http://www.interfaith-presidio.org/
bulletInterfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington at: http://www.interfaith-metrodc.org/
bulletSan Francisco Bay Area Interfaith Coalition
bulletSan Francisco Interfaith Council
bulletNorth American Interfaith Network
bulletWorld Interfaith Education Association
bulletEarth and Spirit Council (Portland OR)
bulletUnited Religions, organized by the Rt. Rev. William Swing, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of California
bulletDiversity Faire held in Orange County, CA
bulletOrange County Interfaith Coalition for Social Justice, in Orange County, CA
bulletWolverhampton Inter-Faith Group (WIFG) in the UK at: http://www.wlv.ac.uk/chaplaincy/photoex/

The Earth & Spirit Council of Portland OR was created in 1991 as an inter-faith group of environmental and spiritual leaders who are dedicated to "reawakening human beings' spiritual connection to the Earth." 1 They sponsor an annual Multicultural Interfaith Earth Day Celebration in Portland OR. This is synchronized with Earth Day, a worldwide celebration held at the time of the Spring Equinox, typically APR-21. By 1999, the celebration has grown to include about 70 groups and individuals. Ananda Marga, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Eckankar, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Scientology Sikh, and Sufi traditions were represented. Their registration fee was two cans of food for the Oregon food bank. 2

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Associations, projects, etc:

bullet The Encounter World Religions Centre is based in Guelph, ON Canada. 3 Their slogan is "celebrating diversity ~ affirming unity ~ pursuing peace." They are "dedicated to educating people about the world's great wisdom traditions through experiential learning." Since the group was founded in the late 1990s, 50,000 students and adults from the U.S. and Canada have taken part in the Centre's programs. An 2003-FEB article in the Toronto Star described an encounter by a group of students -- most from Christian universities in Canada, Nebraska and Iowa. They  experienced a Wiccan girl's coming of age ritual, a sweetgrass ceremony at a First Nations group, and services at Bah'ai, Buddhist (Pure Land and Zen), Charismatic Christian, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Islamic (Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi), Jewish (Reform, Conservative), Orthodox Catholic, Quaker, Roman Catholic, Sikh, Zoroastrian faith groups. They also heard a lecture by a Humanist, who challenged the students' belief in God, and from a Taoist. "Participants receive classes first, then visit the locations to speak with a practitioner to have a face to face experience and hear a first hand description of the tradition and the person’s own story. They...attend a service wherever possible." 5
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bulletMany local groups are members of the North American Interfaith Network. 6 NAIN "is a non-profit association with a membership of more than 60 interfaith organizations and agencies throughout Canada and the United States." These include local, national and international interfaith groups as well as the interfaith offices of various denominations.
bulletThe EDUCATION as Transformation Project: Religious Pluralism, Spirituality, and Higher Education is a project of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life of Wellesley College, Wellesley MA. The project is starting a dialog about religious pluralism within institutes of higher education. 7 They have involved local groups at over 250 colleges and universities in this multi-year project. 8 They address such topics as:
bulletThe response of educational institutions to increasing in religious diversity on their campuses,
bulletSpiritual content of university and college courses
bulletLinks between "student values, moral and ethical development, experiential education, health and wellness, and community service."
bulletThe Association of Interfaith Ministers (A.I.M) is "a non-profit professional organization of Interfaith Ministers and interfaith clergy." The group's name is somewhat curious, because the term "minister" is mainly used to refer to Protestant Christian clergy. The religious leaders of other denominations and religions are typically called by a different name, such as imam, priest, priestess, rabbi, etc. Also, their name is easily confused with:
bulletThe American Indian Movement (AIM). 9
bulletAccuracy in Media, a socially conservative group which monitors the media. 10

This AIM acts as a "clearinghouse for information on interfaith and other interfaith groups, provides education on interfaith for the general public, and maintains a referral service for anyone wishing to locate an Interfaith Minister or interfaith clergy member in their area." Potential members must be graduates of "an accredited or recognized seminary or school of religious training." That effectively wipes out most spiritual leaders from a number of minority faith groups, including Native American Spirituality, Neopaganism, etc. It seems ironic that an interfaith association would refuse membership to representatives of many faiths.

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Sponsored link:

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Interfaith Seminaries:

Local interfaith dialog is often directly provided and/or organized by interfaith clergy. These are often graduates of interfaith seminaries - a new type of religious educational institution that have been founded since the early 1990s. They deliver a multi-faith theological education to students who come from a variety of faith traditions. Faculty are typically clergy from a number of religions and denominations. Their graduates are trained in conducting religious services, marriages and funerals, providing spiritual counseling, providing mediation services, and ministering to the interfaith needs of their community in a variety of ways: health care, counseling, education, etc. Some are:

bulletAmerican Interfaith University
bulletInterfaith Seminary of Santa Cruz (CA): "It is modeled on ancient schools of wisdom where in depth training and experience were imparted through personal association." It was founded by Rev. Aaron Zerah in 1995. Their motto is "Always in Addition...Never Instead of." The seminary "cherishes and includes all the world’s religions and spiritual traditions, as we say, 'from Aboriginal to Zorastrianism.' " 11
bulletInterfaith Theological Seminary (AZ): It provides "the contemplative atmosphere of the monastic setting in a modern, interfaith context...[The] Seminary is modeled on the classical ideal in which study of sacred texts and the transmission of spiritual practices are imparted through personal mentoring by those who have lived deeply the meditative life." They offer a two year program which includes the training and ordination of interfaith ministers in "an integrative program of academic study, contemplative practice, and community service." They recognize four ministries: spiritual caregiving, spiritual guidance and education, traditional hearing, and peace. 12
bulletLighthaven Interfaith Seminary honors "the sacredness and uniqueness of each faith, and then creates ways by which the many paths can meet on common ground... [They] honor Interfaith as a means of uniting two or more spiritual paths in the context of a purposeful, sacred union....[They] honor Interfaith as a path that speaks to those who are searching for spiritual and religious alternatives." 13
bulletNew Seminary: This institute was founded in 1981. Its graduates are ordained as Interfaith Ministers and Spiritual Counselors. 14

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Internet websites:

  1. Nancy Haught, "Earth works," The Oregonian, 1999-APR-21 describes the Earth and Spirit Council events at: http://www.oregonlive.com/outdoors/99/04/ou042101en.html
  2. "Earth & Spirit's" web page is at: http://www.earthandspirit.org/
  3. Encounter World Religions is at: http://www.worldreligions.ca/
  4. Leslie Scrivener, "Encountering other faiths: Christian college students from American Midwest come to Toronto to explore different religions," Toronto Star, 2003-FEB-15, Page K14.
  5. North American Interfaith Network at: http://www.nain.org/
  6. J.W. Windland,  Encounter World Religions Centre. E-mail.
  7. The term "pluralism" is ambiguous. Here is seems to be used to refer to religious diversity.
  8. The Education as Transformation Project: Religious Pluralism, Spirituality and Higher Education" is at:  http://www.wellesley.edu/RelLife/project/
  9. The American Indian Movement has a web site at: http://www.dickshovel.com/AIMIntro.html
  10. Accuracy in Media has a web site at: http://www.aim.org/
  11. Interfaith Seminary of Santa Cruz, CA at: http://prayer.got.net/prayinterfaith.html
  12. Interfaith Theological Seminary at: http://www.azstarnet.com/nonprofit/ifts/
  13. Lighthaven Interfaith Seminary at:  http://www.lighthaven.to/
  14. The New Seminary at: http://www.newseminary.org/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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