by Marc Wernick, ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellow

As a member of a local synagogue and as a member of the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship, I am discovering pathways to become an interreligious leader. I am also learning that there are many entryways into interreligious dialogue and collaboration.

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to be part of two listening sessions with members of the Bolton Street Synagogue (BSS) community. The parlor sessions opened with an icebreaker that explored the congregants’ most meaningful Jewish experiences. While the answers varied, two congregants mentioned the outpouring of community support following the Tree of Life massacre at the Friday night service immediately following the horrid event. The sanctuary was overflowing with community members demonstrating their backing in the wake of an anti-Semitic action, an outpouring of interreligious support in the wake of religious violence. Community support by people of faith in the face of violence is not unusual. For example, Bolton Street Synagogue is a member of the Black Lives Matter Interfaith Coalition that resulted from the death of Freddie Gray.

In the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship, one of our readings was by Diana Eck, a contemporary theologian at Harvard University. She highlights a number of examples where community violence has strengthened pluralism. When I looked at these examples, I concluded that acts of community hatred can spawn interreligious dialogue and collaboration.

However, there are other paths to fostering interreligious understanding. For example, BSS is involved with BUILD, “a broad-based, non-partisan, interfaith, multiracial community power organization rooted in Baltimore’s neighborhoods and congregations.” BSS has also been a part of Faith Communities of Baltimore with Pride (FCBWP), a multi-denominational collaborative “who believe in the human dignity of ALL people, especially our GLBTQIA sisters and brothers.” FCBWP actively plans interreligious events to promote inclusion, understanding, and community for queer people of faith and their allies.

In reflecting on my fellowship with ICJS, I have come to realize that there is also another approach to building interreligious dialogue. That approach is rooted in relationships and knowledge. Our workshop conducted by the Multifaith Storytelling Institute gave us the tools to connect the cohort. In addition to the lens stories provide into the other person’s soul, storytelling helps us make sense of the world, and communicates our values and beliefs. Our relationship with members of the cohort were deepened as we extended and received hospitality when visiting each other’s prayer services. BSS is working with St. Matthew’s Church to develop an event for our communities to gather in fellowship and text studies on love in our faith traditions. By closely working with my cohort members from St. Matthews, I have gotten to know them and their perspectives on community-building.

While part of the study for the cohort included academic and practical reading about interreligious dialogues, I personally found the lectures by the ICJS scholars to be the most helpful. Those lectures provided the underpinnings of understanding the tenants of each faith tradition which formed the basis to begin a dialogue about commonalities and differences in theology.

It is my aspiration to continue to build relationships and knowledge with other people of faith—as an individual, a member of BSS, and as a member of the broader Baltimore community. I invite you to engage in your own path of interreligious understanding through cultivating relationships with people of other faith traditions and learning. Together, we can help fulfill ICJS’s vision of building “an interreligious society in which dialogue replaces division, friendship overcomes fear, and education eradicates ignorance.”


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.

Marc Wernick is a member of the Bolton Street Synagogue in Baltimore and a member of the 2021 ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship. Learn more about our Congregational Leaders programs…