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CRES: promoting understanding among peoples of all faiths
See also our page listing CRES Services and consult

Reference Supplement 0011
copyright 2003 by Vern Barnet, Overland Park, KS

ARCHIVED Guidelines for World Religions Programs
How You Can Use Kansas City Resources (from 2005)

ALSO Eternal Rules for public luncheon and dinner event organizers

1. Introduction and Primers and Guidelines
2. Basic Hints
3. Overview Topics
4. Overview Speakers
5. Kansas City Interfaith Council
6. Resources in Kansas City
7. For children
8. CRES, promoting understanding among peoples of all faiths

1. Introduction

      Congratulations to you and your group for considering a World Religions program. Most people find learning about other faiths deepens their own. How can we truly love our neighbors if we do not know them?
    Kansas City is composed of people from many faith traditions, and the Kansas City Interfaith Council has prepared a Speakers Bureau which can help you plan your program and contact representatives from many of the varied religions practiced in the metro area. 
   Most of the speakers are happy to offer their services without charge. Nevertheless, many groups like to provide a speaker with an honorarium or make a contribution to the community of faith the speaker represents.
    CRES does not normally make arrangements; you should contact prospective speakers directly. 

1a. Interfaith Primers

    If you have not read the Interfaith Primers and the Guidelines, that is your first step.

2. Basic Hints and Examples

     A. In your publicity, emphasize that your group brings a respectful attitude to the faiths you will encounter. As you introduce the program, again make clear that the purpose of the event is information and understanding. It is not for argument or conversion — either for the speaker to convert your group or for anyone in your group to convert the speaker. We celebrate kinship, not necessarily a common creed. Learning about each other can help us mature within our own traditions.*

    B. Your speakers should
 -- be comfortable in speaking publically and in English
 -- know their own faiths broadly, beyond their particular denominations, divisions, movements, or schools
 -- understand the history, scripture (if any), stories, concepts, ritual practices, moral perspectives, organizations, artistic expressions and cultural impacts of their faiths
 -- understand your faith well enough to make comparisons and contrasts with theirs
 -- be a good story-teller, not only from ones own tradition but from one's life experiences
 -- honor your own faith.

    C. If you have friends, family members, co-workers, or acquaintances of other faiths you would like to hear about and who are qualified, invite them to be part of your program. Personal relationships build bridges between faiths. But if you need help in obtaining speakers, consider the Kansas City Interfaith Council Speakers Bureau.

    D. If you wish an overview, you may want to use teachers of comparative religion or individuals listed below. Overview topics are identified in a following section.

    E. Consider at least one speaker from each of three families of faith.
    -- The family emphasizing nature includes American Indian and Wiccan traditions.
    -- The family emphasizing inner revelation includes Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Sufism.
    -- The family emphasizing history and community includes Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Unitarian Universalism and Baha’i.

    F. While most groups want a program in which each religion is presented with time for questions, others have asked their speakers to address a specific issue around which a series or panel has been organized, such as healing or the role of the family.
   * Make sure the speaker is comfortable with the format you propose. One speaker may prefer to respond to questions as they arise; another may want to complete the presentation before taking questions.
    * If you ask the speaker to respond to specific advance questions, you may want to be sure that they actually apply to the faith represented. For example, asking an American Indian to discuss scripture is not an appropriate request since the tradition has historically been oral.

   G. Here are four different models of series:
        (1) Ongoing open. Since 1993, an interfaith group at the University of Kansas Medical Center meets each Wednesday. Once a month, they engage a guest speaker. Even those not connected with the hospital are welcome for the noon brown bag lunch and discussion.
        (2) Ongoing closed. Beginning in 1987 and for about ten years, the Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group met monthly to discuss issues of mutual interest. To deepen the exchange about sometimes very controversial issues, membership was closed although guests were often invited.
        (3) Site visits. “Houses of the Holy” was a series conducted by Community Christian Church. A group visited Temple B’nai Jehudah, Inshirah Mosque and the Hindu Temple to learn about non-Christian faiths “on site.”
        (4) Theme series. The Young Leaders Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau developed “Interfaith Viewpoints on Life,” a series focusing on birth, rites of adulthood, marriage, death and such. Speakers represented Jewish, Wiccan, Hindu, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and American Indian faiths.
    Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church focused its “Inside Out: Experiencing Spirituality” series with a professor familiar with several traditions including Buddhism, Sufism and Christian Orthodoxy. The series emphasized non-verbal practices including dancing and icons.
        (5) Single programs on general or special topics.

3. Topics for an Overview

    Some groups also like to begin the series with an “overview” or introduction, and/or conclude with a summation. Depending on the time allotted, a speaker can:
    -- Outline three basic attitudes that can be brought to the study of different faiths

    -- Identify the major religions within the three great families of faith (the Primal, the Asian, the Monotheistic) and sketch their presence in Kansas City

   -- Chart the basic characteristics of the three families of faith and illustrate their basic insights with characteristic stories and objects of art

   -- Show how three great areas of crisis today (environmental, personal, and social) require our acquaintance with these great traditions of wisdom

   -- Explain how the basic insights of the families of faith can become distorted

   -- Present the five most common guesses scholars make about what the future of religions is likely to be

   -- Provide appropriate hand-outs and identify additional resources

   -- Answer general questions and questions about specific religions (their origins and leaders, their history, their beliefs and practices, their texts, their organization, distribution, and membership, etc.)

   -- Place the interest in world religions in the context of the unprecedented religious confusion in America to day, deepened by (1) privatism, the fragmentation of personal religious experience from society, and (2) secularism, society without a unifying vision of 


1. What does your faith group say about the best attitude to bring to other religions? What is your own story about how you came to recognize other faiths?

2. What is the meaning of 
(a) water, 
(b) fire, 
(c) membership, 
(d) the sacred, 
(e) what do you most want folks to know about your own tradition and how it is like and different from others? 
(f) what does "revelation" and/or "scripture" mean and how does it govern those of your faith? 
(g) what spiritual resources and practical responses does your faith offer to the three great crises of our time -- the environment, the lack of a sense of fulfilled personhood, the conflict, oppression, crime, and exploitation, poverty/wealth gap which violate our sense of a just and peaceful society? 
Please give anecdotes or relate examples from your own life experience to illustrate your points.

3. Some scholars identify four dimensions to religion: 
Creed (belief), 
Code (moral requirements), 
Cultus (ritual performances), and 
Community (social ties and organization, religious and otherwise). 
Different religions emphasize different dimensions. For example, correct belief is very important for Christian Fundamentalists, while social coherence is more important for many Jews (you can be an atheist and a Jew so long as your mother was Jewish). What dimensions are most important in your faith? 
Please give an anecdote or relate an example from your own life experience to illustrate the priority your faith gives to one of these dimensions..

4. Overview speakers

The Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn, CRES minister in residence or another member of the CRES staff will be happy to assist you, and work with the Speakers Bureau.
    Dr Barnet’s interfaith work with CRES began in 1982. Combining worldwide interests and a local familiarity with religion, he organized the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989. For its first four years, he coordinated the Christian-Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group here.
    He has spoken at many international interfaith meetings, and teaches world religions at the graduate and undergraduate level. His talks are often illustrated with slides and stories from travels in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America.
    Garma C C Chang was his first world religions teacher. At the University of Chicago he studied with Mircea Eliade. He also trained with Joseph Campbell. Like many others, he is inspired by Huston Smith, whom he first met 30 years ago. {913.649.5114,}
Ed Chasteen, PhD, CRES Amity Shaman, wrote How to Like People Who Are Not Like You and can provide insights into multicultural questions. Formerly head of Ethnic Studies at William Jewell College and originator of the Human Family Reunion dinners, Ed now hold office at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and runs HateBusters.
     While his specialty is appreciating diversity and claims to be no authority on world religions, he magnificently addresses attitudes we can bring to those of other faiths. {913.371.5313,}

The Rev David E Nelson, DMin, formerly senior pastor at Saint James Lutheran Church, was appointed CRES associate minister in 1995.
     David served on the Kansas City Interfaith Council as its Protestant member before becoming its chair. For two years he was the coordinator of the Christian Jewish Muslim Dialogue Group.
     David received his master’s degree in divinity and his doctorate degree in ministry from the Lutheran School of Theology at the University of Chicago. He served as an adjunct faculty member of that school, conveying a Doctor of Ministry program in both Kansas and Missouri. He is a graduate of the two-year program in spiritual direction with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Direction in Washington, D.C. {816.453.3835,}

5. KC Interfaith Council [this material is dated to 2005]

    The mission of the Council was:

    1. to develop deeper understanding among members of  the Council of each other’s faiths and traditions, and to foster appropriate bilateral and multilateral interreligious conversations
    2. to model religious values (especially mutual respect and cooperation) in a society which often seems non-religious and intolerant
    3. to provide resources, networking, and programs to increase appreciation for religious diversity, and
    4. to work with media and with educational and religious leaders and groups in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths.
    Fundraising and political or social action activities are not normally the focus of the Council, though the Council may refer suggestions about such matters to other, more appropriate organizations.
     Formed on May 11, 1989, the Council currently meets quarterly and is planning a major Interfaith Conference. The Council’s activities are reported in the CRES monthly newsletter, Many Paths.
     The Sunday before Thanksgiving, at a different hosting location each year, representatives of faith communities in the Kansas City area speak and eat together at the Interfaith Ritual Meal, a practice begun in 1984. It is open to the public and especially welcomes children.

Please see the website of the Council, now independent.

6. Interfaith Resources in Kansas City

[Please see KC Interfaith Opportunities for more complete, recent information]

(1) Kansas City Interfaith Council Speakers Bureau

(2) “An Interview on Interfaith Issues”
      by Clint Wynn with Vern Barnet

(3) Religious Diversity in Kansas City, prepared by the CRES staff

(4) Many Paths, the monthly newsletter of CRES

(5) The Saturday “Faith” section of The Kansas City Star, which features a rotating panel of spiritual leaders from various faiths in Kansas City, a “Spotlight” and stories on trends and issues

(6) The “Faiths and Beliefs” column by Vern Barnet, in the Wednesday FYI section of The Kansas City Star

(7) Other organizations listed on the CRES website on the Network page


7. For Children

Children can and should become acquainted with the concept of religious diversity.

Many denominations and school systems have developed resources to assist teachers.

In addition, the internet is full of material, some of it reliable, that may help. Here are a few examples:

An old book for children that still may be helpfu is Dorothy Dixon's WORLD RELIGIONS IN THE CLASSROOM. Basic books useful for lay teachers are Huston Smith's THE WORLD'S RELIGIONS (ISBN 0-06-250811-3) and  SOURCEBOOK OF THE WORLD'S RELIGIONS by Joel Beversluis (ISBN 1-57731-121-3.)

On-site curriculum consultation and training is $75/hour with a 4-hour minimum.

Congratulations on recognizing the importance of children and young people (as well as adults) in learning about world religions. Those who undertake the study find that their own faith is deepened and enriched.


8. “CRES”

    Founded as “The Center for Religious Experience and Study,” CRES is a Kansas City area non-profit interfaith institute founded in 1982. Its mission is to explore and celebrate the sacred in nature, personal identity, and social covenant, including all areas of culture, from art and business to science and sports. Its services include consultation and teaching, programs, counseling, networking, weddings, publications, and other ways of supporting individuals and organizations with the resources of the world’s religious traditions and contemporary liberation movements.

VISION: CRES envisions the greater Kansas City area as a model community where interfaith relationships are honored as a way of deepening one’s own tradition and spirituality, and where the wisdom of the many religions successfully addresses the environmental, personal,  and social crises of our often distracted, fragmented, secular world.

MISSION: To honor the sacred wherever it appears, to support its appearance everywhere, and especially by promoting understanding among peoples of all faiths in Kansas City and beyond.

GUIDING QUESTION: What is so important that life depends upon it, so meaningful that I would die for it, and what may I do to understand, honor, and share it? In other words: What is sacred?

MOTTO: “Primal Faiths, restored with nature; Asian Faiths, the self made whole; Monotheistic Faiths, community in covenant; Liberation Movements, finding the sacred afresh.”

THE ROLE OF CRES: Institutionally, CRES exists in the spaces between other religious and secular organizations, building a network among them by asking the Guiding Question. While the focus of CRES is the Kansas City metropolitan area, it also relates to international interfaith organizations and activities.

Cooperating groups and individuals assist us to
 -- promote interfaith networking, dialog, and co-operation
 -- provide insight into the problems and possibilities of  our global community,
 -- enrich and refresh the life of the individual,
 -- deepen awareness of our participation in the natural environment, and
-- support and enhance goals and programs of existing Kansas City area religious, educational, and other public and private organizations.

Rules for public luncheon and dinner event organizers

1. Unless the occasion is sad or tragic, begin on the upbeat, grateful, glad to see the people, to honor the occasion. Don't mumble. 

2. Remember most people attend such events from a sense of obligation or desire to support an occasion or a cause or a person being honored.

3. They are already supporting your organization or event. Don't ask them to support another. Don't give your time to another organization to make its pitch. That's not why folks are at your tables.

4. Don't use a PA sound system unless it is really necessary. If you must, be sure the damn thing works. People like me who are hard of hearing often understand better without amplification than with it. Using a PA system does not make your event more important.

5. If you ask a representative of a hosting facility to present greetings, be clear what you ask for. Some may presume you want a lecture and/or a prayer. But if you plan on someone else offering a prayer, tell your host your plan. If the occasion might lead guests to wonder where the rest rooms are, such information will make your guests more comfortable.

6. Don't poison your guests with salty food. Many caterers use harmful levels of salt because most people are addicted to salt and will die early because of that. You don't permit smoking. Why do you permit unhealthy levels of salt? If your caterer fears bland food, add salt shakers to the tables so those who want to die early can choose to do so themselves.

7. Don't ask musicians to perform during the meal unless you are instructing people not to talk. This might be OK in a monastic setting where monks may be used to listen to a designated reader while no one converses. Normally people want to visit with each other and music can make that hard. Sometimes guests feel like they need to applaud after every song or piece. It's awkward and defeats, rather than supporting, the benefits of socializing.

8. Clear the table after the meal, or let the guests know where they can bus or dispose of the stuff. Most people like a clean table place to sit at for the remainder of the program instead of viewing the mess they've made.

9. People come for the main event. Don't tack on to the dinner an amateur hour performance of any sort. People want to visit or go home.