Four years ago this summer, a small group of men and women from several congregations gathered in Sunset Park. The Centre Region’s Islamic community was holding its Eid festival service there to mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
Our interfaith group went to welcome and express caring toward the Islamic community. We were met with tremendous gladness and warm welcome from members of the large and diverse Islamic congregation.
Soon after, a brainstorming session was called to see how our group might continue building bridges of communication and friendship. An interfaith picnic was called at a local park. As many as 150 people showed up on a beautiful fall day. Shortly thereafter, organizational meetings were called, and Interfaith Initiative Centre County was born.
Since the early days, we have been holding events such as discussion panels, interfaith thanksgiving celebrations and guest-speaker events. In addition to much consultation, visitation and sharing that go on behind the scenes, interfaith picnics take place in the spring and fall, and an interfaith coffee hour occurs monthly at a local eatery.
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IICC members from various faith traditions also write monthly columns featured here in the Centre Daily Times.
Calling on years of experience with interfaith work, Rabbi David Ostrich early on urged us to develop a mission and goals for the group. These statements developed over the years since we began:
The mission of IICC is to foster compassion, charity and goodwill and to build a healthy interfaith community by promoting respect, understanding, cooperation and friendship among Centre County’s faith communities and their individual members.
IICC goals are: to create opportunities for dialogue between and among faiths and to model healthy interfaith relations; to more deeply understand one another and ourselves through our interactions and sharing of beliefs and life stories; to encourage and provide moral support for local faith communities — particularly those experiencing hostility or discrimination; to share social concerns and foster cooperation while recognizing and respecting our religious differences; to discuss theologies and ideological issues in a frank, positive and respectful environment; and to create an environment of asking and answering questions and of learning, but not of proselytizing, converting others or making disciples.
Here in Centre County we have a long, strong tradition of interreligious sharing, caring and cooperation. Yet this is not the case everywhere. In many places in the world, being a member of a minority or disempowered faith group can make one subject to extreme danger and oppression.
And many arrive in our own community from hometowns where there are no non-Christian faith groups. We therefore recognize our calling to introduce people to what those of all faiths have in common and to model good relations.
In this academic setting, we are examples to the world. Recognizing this, IICC recently added the following Statement of Philosophy to accompany our mission and goals:
“While we may differ as to spirituality or faith tradition, we agree that as human beings we are equally worthy, that each of us has freedom to follow individual conscience, and that we recognize our need to live together in peace.”
All that said, perhaps IICC’s greatest success in its few years of existence has been the building and deepening of personal friendships between individuals of diverse faiths.