by Father Joe Muth

When I have searched for inspiration to help my preaching preparation, I often turned to the phrase “a good preacher has the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” which I’ve always attributed to Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. I recently learned that this phrase was attributed to the noted Swiss Protestant Theologian Karl Barth. Since Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and Karl Barth (1886-1968) were contemporaries, I don’t know which one came up with the phrase first, but it is notable to me that this Ecumenical Duo would use similar phraseology to inspire preachers of their day. Whether they actually ever met, or collaborated is irrelevant to me; it is sufficient that they both were seemingly in sync with this approach to a preacher’s preparation for his or her sermon.

My involvement with ICJS’s Congregational Leader Fellowship has helped me build bridges across inter/intra-religious differences. I have used a four-step approach to make this happen.

1. I use the newspaper to see the reality of life when different denominations are at odds with each other.

2. I use the dialogue that happens at ICJS to help me understand the differences, and where we have historically united or separated.

3. I then look at my denomination’s Sunday lectionary to provide opportunities to preach about this story.

4. I make plans for myself and my parishioners to go visit the other church, mosque, or synagogue so that we might have the practical experience of another tradition, and through sharing dialogue grow in understanding and acceptance of “the other.” This happens by spending time with “the other” and listening.

The challenge in this process is facing the prejudices that some people already have, and were taught to have, about “the other.” The growth opportunity is to overcome the prejudice, face the bigotry, and find ways to pray, eat, meet, and work together. Discovering common ground amidst our historical, emotional, and spiritual differences is a wonderful realization of understanding life and faith.

When we had our Catholic elementary school students meet with Muslim elementary school students, there was much apprehension on both sides at first. After two group meetings, two of the girls (one Muslim and one Catholic) were delighted to discover that they both liked basketball and listened to the same rap artists. The religious differences were not in the way any longer, and there was no apprehension at this point. Spending time together, engaging in dialogue, and listening breaks open the possibilities for connection, conversation, and community. This can lead to relationship-building on a larger scale in the congregations, and even friendship.


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.

Father Joe Muth is Pastor Emeritus at St. Matthew Catholic Church and a member of the 2021 ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship. Learn more about our Congregational Leaders programs…