What do you get when a rabbi, a minister, and an imam ride on a bus together? You get a rare opportunity to convene spiritual leaders from three different religions to compare and contrast, and learn about and demystify one another's faiths. As such, this is a wonderful, successful program for other Reform congregations across the country to replicate. Monmouth Reform Temple (MRT) was the lead Jewish organization participating in a Tri-Faith Day of Cooperation in Monmouth County, NJ.
A Memorable Day
On June 14, 2009, the Islamic Society of Monmouth County, the United Methodist Church of Red Bank and MRT of Tinton Falls joined together in a "Day of Cooperation" in an effort to find common ground and build future relationships. The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
The positive results of the encounters were tangible as congregational members from each institution spent 45 minutes in one another's houses of worship. The spiritual leader of each congregation made a presentation to members of other faiths followed by a question and answer session. Questions were open and answers were frank and illuminating. Rabbi Jonathan Roos of MRT offered remarks accompanied by slides that shed light on the various symbols seen throughout the sanctuary and what each item's larger meaning was to the Jewish community. He spoke of those areas that were similar among the faiths and clearly addressed how they were different in beliefs and practices. The audience was attentive and asked a number of questions following his presentation.
MRT members volunteered to welcome the buses transporting participants as they disembarked at the synagogue; they guided folks to their seats, provided impromptu tours and explanations and generally made each individual feel welcome. MRT members later commented on how enjoyable it was and that they felt part of a greater good, having an opportunity to educate and reach out to neighbors and find ways to communicate and share. Those who travelled to the other congregations found them welcoming and informative and came away with new insights.
U.S. Congressman Rush Holt participated at each house of worship, giving him the opportunity to become acquainted with the congregations and their leaders and members.
Following the visits to the houses of worship, all the participants went to Monmouth University where Representative Holt and Pastor Joshua Dubois, White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, made remarks, and multicultural entertainment, exhibits and food were provided.
Planning and Results
The Tri-Faiths event took advance planning on the part of the Federation, the university and each of the religious organizations that volunteered their facilities for the bus tours. A congregation could do this program with just the visits mentioned earlier or also include a gathering such the final assembly at the university. MRT members joined together to prepare materials and volunteer on the day as greeters. The event itself is relatively low cost: the primary expense was the bus and publicity, but the payoff was well worth it.
MRT members came away from the experience with a sense of pride about their own faith and were that much wiser and appreciative of the commonalities—and differences—of other faiths in their own community. The seed was planted to build on this day for future interfaith social action events, already an integral part of the MRT community.
RESOURCES: For additional information, contact Rabbi Jonathan Roos or Lisa Calderwood, Chair, Membership, Board Trustee, and visit www.monmouthreformtemple.org