Word of the Week

Building Stronger Communities Interfaith Style

On Sunday afternoon, the folks of Washington Plaza Baptist Church, Oakbrook Church (an evangelical non-denominational community), Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation and the Adams Center (All Dulles Area Muslim Society), began a conversation about "Who is my neighbor?"

Such a conversation, though new endeavor, was a part of an ongoing discussion that the clergy of all four of these communities had been shared for almost two years now. What took place on Sunday was a dream come to fruition.

It began with Imam Magid and Rabbi Nosanchuk having a idea-- an idea of a Jewish clergy and a Muslim clergy, who were very dear friends traveling together to the Holy Land as a symbol of peace and reconciliation for a region with much division. And as the conversation continued, these two good friends realized that it might also be nice to invite Christians to come as well.

Soon John Moyle, the pastor of Oakbrook and I were in too and began meeting regularly with the Rabbi and the Imam. Countless coffee dates and conference calls were shared between us. Our collective vision became a trip to Israel together, united as children of Issac and Ishmael saying through friendship peace is possible.

The time of our journey together came and went in January. (If you want to read more about it, click here). It was a wonderful adventure of travel and relationship building that was sad to see end.

Yet, the intention of our trip was just the beginning. We knew if the Israel adventure was just four clergy taking a trip, the impact, though meaningful to us, but small reaching. We knew the God we all worshiped was up to something greater. Soon plans were in the works for a gathering that would re-unite us, not just as a clergy but as congregations. June 5th would be our date to work toward.

How happy we were, as Washington Plaza folks, to be invited last Sunday afternoon by the warm welcome of the members of Oakbrook Church to their facility. As the program began, it was soon apparent that this gathering was more than about a group of four clergy going to the Middle East. Rather, it was about a deep desire of four particular congregations to find a way to build a stronger community together over the long haul.

Thinking of one another first as friends, rather than that faith with the "strange" practices.

Thinking of one another as allies, rather than a part of a group that doesn't love America as much as the other.

And most of all realizing that stronger communities are built when parents and grandparents model for their children patterns of loving their neighbor even when their neighbor covers her head, eats kosher, or likes to worship God with a band instead of with a hymnbook.  We could find ways to love each other well.

Part of the program included a response activity at the conclusion (it was from the walking the aisle tradition of the Baptists, of course). Participants were asked to join a dinner or dessert group with people of a faith different from them, join in a summer book club discussion or suggest ways they saw all of us meeting together again. So, in a way, our desire to foster education, understanding and peace has only just begun in Reston. I'm excited to see what is next and I'm so proud of the willingness of my church peeps to being a long for all that awaits us.  

And, of course there was food. When all else fails, it's good to at least learn to eat together. As you can tell from the food spread, mission accomplished!