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2nd DRAFT Interfaith Academies Summary
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The nation’s first Interfaith Academies are now over and Kansas City should be proud. Because of the extent and quality of our interfaith relationships and the support CRES provides, our town was selected as the site for these pilot programs to train emerging religious leaders and enhance the skills of those already working in interfaith capacities.
Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and inspired by the Rev Bud Heckman, now at the Hartford Seminary, who developed partnerships with Religions for Peace-USA at the United Nations Plaza, Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, the Saint Paul School of Theology here, and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, the Academies brought together scholars, practitioners, and students in classroom and field activities to engage each person professionally and spiritually. CRES provided local coordination and Vern also served as a member of the faculty.
In many world religions, water is a transforming agent. And when people from many faiths gather, water can symbolize both the distinctive rivers of faith and the ocean of mystery into which those rivers ultimately flow.
So when, from Canada, Connecticut, California and places between, 45 religious professionals and students, aged 19 to post-retirement, assembled here at the Saint Paul School of Theology to learn about doing interfaith work, they brought water. And each also brought a rock.
Ceremonially, one by one, they poured their water into a 3-gallon clear glass jar, dropped their rocks into it and voiced their hopes as the Interfaith Academies began last month.
Many Paths readers may recall that waters have been collected and dispersed on several interfaith occasions.
To a collection of waters from the Ganges, Nile, Tiber, Danube, Seine, Thames, Yangtze, Jordan, Euphrates, Missouri, Kaw, and elsewhere, in 2001 water was added from 14 fountains from Independence to Olathe, from Lee’s Summit to KCK and of course the Plaza, by members of 14 faith groups, A to Z (American Indian to Zoroastrian) at the interfaith “Gifts of Pluralism” conference to celebrate the fact that faiths from all over the planet now flow into our own community.
The meaning of this collection of waters was deepened at the 2002 anniversary observance of 9/11 when these waters were poured and mingled in the pool at Ilus Davis Park, and then retrieved to signify our tears washing away our self-righteousness.
And on many other occasions since, the vessel of waters have heightened and dramatized the reality of interfaith flow.
Academies participants added their waters to the collection, and the two-week schedule began, including:
* a press conference at which proclamations and greetings were displayed from Mayor Mark Funkhouser, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, Congressman Dennis Moore, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, County Executive Mike Sanders, Senator Claire McCaskill, and Senator Pat Roberts
* visits to six exceptionally hospitable religious sites, the Rime Buddhist Center, Al-Inshirah Islamic Center, Temple B’nai Jehudah, the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, and the Sikh Gurdwara
* classroom study of various faiths with an international faculty (see http://www.cres.org/ifa/index.html or the June Many Paths)
* case studies of perplexing interfaith situations such as a community opposing sale of a church building to Muslims wishing to use it as a mosque
* panel presentations on lesser known traditions, American Indian, Bahá'í, Pagan, and Zoroastrian
* exercises such as interpreting problematic sacred texts
* a panel of media experts who amiably argued amongst themselves, answered questions from the Academies participants, and provided insights into the future of media
* a panel discussion following a screening of Divided We Fall at the Tivoli Cinemas, opening considerations about the relatiuon between religion and violence and religious prejudice
* presentations on social issues such as Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals
* library study time
* films with interfaith significance in the evening (see list on Supplement page 4)
* time out for a Royals game and a Friday evening visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with specially arranged tours
* identification of interfaith resources such as Harvard’s Pluralism Project and its Common Ground
* devotional experiences from many faiths, some provided by participants and others by community guests including Gayle Krigel (Jewish); and Golab Kothari (Jain) and Mahnaz Shabbir (Muslim), who also spoke about their faiths
* discussions of participants’ interfaith efforts in their own locales and guest Sam Muyskens of Wichita
* a performance of scenes from “The Hindu and the Cowboy and Other Kansas City Stories” created from some 80 interviews of area residents from every faith, introduced by Donna Ziegenhorn
* special evening prayer with David E Nelson expounding on why he loves interfaith work: Because 1. I am curious. 2. It is life changing (è tolerance è respect è appreciation). 3. It is liberating. 4. It is necessary. 5. It is so much more fun. (See www.humanagenda.com.)
* informal exchanges enabled by meals together and dormitory life
* insights from Lynn Szwaja, program officer for the funder, who was able to join us for several days
* careful monitoring by evaluator Larry Guillot to answer the funder’s questions about success and replicability
* 20-minute portrait of the Academies with interviews with practitioners and emerging leaders on KCUR’s “KC Currents,” audio available from www.cres.org and from KCUR (see column on the far right) and other media attention logged on the CRES web site
* the care with which Larry Williams, vice president for human resources and campus operations at the Saint Paul School of Theology, and his staff responded to every sort of need, from a minor medical situation, electronic configurations, housing, and food — even consistently delicious vegetarian food — and for those who wanted a taste of Kansas City, a chance to sample both Gates and Bryant’s BBQ
* This list does not exhaust the names of those who contributed to this pinnacle event nor the types of activities that made this learning experience so much fun, but for now, we move this report to temporary conclusion . . . .
At the end of the fortnight, the participants retrieved a rock someone else had brought, washed but undiluted by the mingled waters gathered from previous KC interfaith events and from the waters each of them brought here, and celebrated the gifts of learning from one another and from the spiritual richness of Kansas City, to take home, and beyond.