Community Interfaith Workshop

Creating a Community Interfaith Workshop

Elements and an Illustrative Model

Keywords: interfaith organization, interreligious community building, interfaith collaboration, interfaith community workshop, listening skills, interfaith dialogue 

Creating workshop designs is an important process for group planners and leaders. These strategies help clarify the intended direction of meetings. This is especially important in interfaith groups where there can be such a wide range of expectations.

 It is very important to know your audience. Our work has been influenced by the fact that many in our interfaith community were born overseas and have traveled widely; they tend to be highly educated and experienced in intercultural situations. About a hundred people have attended our community interfaith workshops. The materials from these workshops can be adapted for use with other similar groups.

 THE FOLLOWING ELEMENTS illustrate our emphasis on interfaith listening.   Each element is described following this outline:

1. The Invitation

2. Beginning the Conversation

3. Creating the Atmosphere

4. Questions for Interfaith Dialogue

5. Ground Rules for Religious Dialogue

 6. Action Planning for Community Interfaith Understanding

 1. The Invitation:

 Dialoging Between Faiths and Cultures:

              A Workshop for Strengthening our Community

In the years since 9/11 we have continuously seen the importance of strengthening and uniting our community.  The need for building understanding, acceptance and trust among our diverse, often competing, and sometimes conflicting faith communities has never been as apparent as now.  

A significant way for the Monmouth Center to bring interfaith/intercultural understanding to Monmouth County is to develop skills in dialogue among community members of different faiths. Working with differences and building harmony in our diverse communities requires abilities in dialogue and listening. 

During this interactive evening, we will learn more about how to establish an atmosphere where we can non-defensively explore the differences in how we live our lives and practice our faiths. In a safe environment, community members will engage in thoughtful and respectful discussion.  

2. Beginning the Interfaith Conversation: A Handout

 WELCOME!

 Tonight is an opportunity to share our interfaith/intercultural experiences through telling and listening to each others’ stories. This experience helps increase understanding and adds to our abilities to live and work harmoniously with our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues from different faith and cultural backgrounds!

 Tonight we will:

●  explore the differences in how we live our lives and practice our faiths

●  practice skills in listening among community members

●  learn to recognize the richness of our differences and similarities 

●  experience a safe atmosphere for continued dialogue

In some ways, we here today are a MICROCOSM of the whole world.

What we learn will offer some clues about how the world and our community can become a better place. 

[We divided into small groups that were as diverse as possible. The group sizes of six to eight people allowed for maximum interaction between individuals. There was an overall workshop leader and several small group facilitators. ]

 *  *  Your Faith and Culture Background  *  *  *

 These questions will guide you in reflecting on your own individual background and experiences in terms of your faith(s) and culture(s). Listening to others helps us appreciate our differences and similarities and helps dispel some assumptions we may hold. 

DIRECTIONS: Individually, please jot down your ideas about the following. We invite you to introduce yourself to your small group including any of this information you would like. 

1. Your Background: Tell about the faith/culture you grew up in.  Then describe some ways that your faith and culture have influenced the way you have lived your life such as: your customs, everyday routines, food, ceremonies, rites of passage, family life, relationships, marriage, being a parent, friendships, career, your values and aspirations, etc.

 2. Interactions with others:  When you were growing up, what kind of contact did you have with people from other faiths and cultures? When did you first realize there were different cultures and faiths?  What messages did you get from home and school about different cultures and faiths?  Tell about any insights about yourself or the world that you gained through meeting someone from another religion or culture.

 3. Creating an Atmosphere of Listening: A Handout

The information below may be given to participants as a handout for reference during the dialogue.

  SPEAKfrom your own experiences.

 ●  LEARNand grow. Your purpose is to learn from the other participants.

  LISTEN … deeply with suspended judgment and open the door to expanded understanding. Park opinions at the door.

  ASK QUESTIONS … with the intention of gaining additional insight and perspective that lead to new levels of understanding. Questions should not analyze or challenge.   Such questions often begin with:

  “I wonder.…”.  “What does _______mean to you.”

 SLOW …    down the process. Hold space for difference.  

4. The Dialogue Questions

[In small groups we had a conversation about these questions:]

 ● How does your religion, religious belief, and spiritual practice manifest in your life?

● How do you nurture your spiritual growth and development?

● What are the spiritual practices that help you stay true to or alter your beliefs?

●  To whom do you turn for spiritual/ethical guidance?

●  What is a basic belief in your faith, and how do you express that in your life?

● How do you find balance between the ideals of your teachings and what faces you in everyday life?

5. Ground Rules for Religious Dialogue

1. Speak from your own experience.

 2. Remember the purpose.  Enter into dialogue so that you can learn and grow; not so that you can change the other. 

3. Give Space. Be conscious of the need to allow people the space to enter the discussion. Some people  are more timid about offering their thoughts, but will be encouraged to do so if more outspoken persons avoid dominating the exchange. Let your questions be extensions, not challenges.

 4. Assume honesty. Everyone must be honest and sincere, even if it means revealing discomforts with your own tradition and that of the other. Everyone must assume that everyone else is being equally honest and sincere.

 5. Keep your religious identity.  Everyone must be permitted to define their own religious experience and identity, and this must be respected by others.  Don’t feel that you are the spokesperson for your entire faith tradition or that you ought somehow to know everything there is to know about it. Admit any confusion or uncertainty you might have if a puzzling question arises. 

6. Don’t try to convert. 

7. Avoid assumptions.  Don’t assume in advance where points of agreement or disagreement will exist. 

8. Be willing to be self-critical. 

9. Shift perspective.  All should strive to experience the other’s faith “from within” and be prepared to view themselves differently as a result of an “outside” perspective.

 10. Maintain trust.  Trust is a must.   

 Adapted from Leonard Swidler, “The Dialogue Decalogue”,
Journal of Ecumenical Studies 20/1:1:4) 

 The workshop ended with brief summaries from the facilitator of each dialogue group. The workshop leader summarized suggestions for creating an atmosphere of listening and dialogue.

6. Carry Through to Community Action:

          An End-Of-Meeting Handout

Ways to Increase Interfaith/Intercultural Understandings:

(Please write your response below, then tear off and hand in so all responses can be read.)

● What is one thing you can do to improve your interfaith/ intercultural abilities and understandings?  

● How might you contribute to interfaith/ intercultural dialogue in Monmouth County?  

NEXT: 21 Listening Skills for Pluralistic Communities