It is almost impossible to describe how the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship has helped me better understand the Abrahamic faith traditions and see each of our religions as expressions of our belief systems. While there are differences in beliefs and practices it seems that the essence of the God we honor is love. As an interreligious leader it is this love demonstrated through empathy, and the ability to seek to understand rather than be understood, that is at the heart of connecting with someone no matter what religion they adhere to.
Through this fellowship I have learned that developing interreligious relationships requires a sacrifice of time, talents, and treasures because true fellowship is about intentionally getting to know someone. As a pastor who has multiple roles and responsibilities it can be a challenge finding time to build new relationships. However, I have found having initial one-on-one conversations with a person of another faith—where you are actively listening in order to find shared interests in ministry and community—is very helpful. During the conversation, if there are shared interests and a mutual desire to learn and grow with each other, you can plan to set aside two to three hours a month to get to know each other. Prioritizing getting to know each other over a sustained period of time is important because, as the adage says, “no one cares what you know until they know how much you care.”
In addition to the learning and growth that takes place through these interreligious relationships, these connections also have a societal benefit. In my work with BRIDGE Maryland, Inc.—which is a multicultural interfaith coalition of religious and lay leaders dedicated to training and developing leaders to create the Beloved Community of peace, justice and equity the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked tirelessly to establish—I find it is important to know about the religious traditions of others and invite them into this work of social justice. As people of faith we have a responsibility to bring about equity within communities in Maryland who are in desperate need of restorative justice.
Participating in the fellowship reminded me that although there is a sacrifice of time, the price of forfeiting that time is even more costly. In other words, not spending the time to develop interreligious relationships and learning about the religious traditions of others is a detriment to all of God’s children because we are in an inescapable network of mutuality, as Rev. Dr. King, Jr. so eloquently shared in his writings and oratory presentations. Therefore, I would encourage anyone who wants to see a better tomorrow for their children and grandchildren and all generations to consider participating in opportunities like this fellowship in order to enhance your spiritual development and learn how to become a more effective interreligious leader.
The ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship is a year long fellowship designed to connect local congregations from within the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities and expand their capacity for interreligious engagement and leadership. Throughout the year cohort members will offer reflections on interreligious leadership. Each contributor represents their own views and opinions. We welcome this diversity of perspectives and seek to foster dialogue around the topics presented.