A local event as part of this year’s Kindness Week aims to encourage people of all faiths — even no faith — to gather in harmony in the community and break bread together.
An Amazing Faiths Dinner, sponsored by Congregations United to Serve Humanity, will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the American Albanian Islamic Center.
Created by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee in 2011, the Amazing Faiths Dinner dialogues have been very successful in bringing together individuals of varying faiths as well as those with no faith.
As the convener and recording secretary of the Religious Leaders Caucus, the Rev. Erik Carlson, pastor of Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist, explained that the RLC hosts an interfaith event each year to highlight their commitment to working with one another for positive social change despite theological differences.
“This year we are working with the Interfaith Conference to hold the Amazing Faiths Dinner event that features facilitated small-group conversation of relevant issues among participants from a diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds,” explained Carlson, who will also serve as a facilitator at the event.
A moderator assists at each table by using dialogue cards which contain thought-provoking questions about the broad themes present in nearly all faith traditions and world views. Guests listen to each other’s response without interrupting, questioning or commenting. No one is forced to respond to the questions, explained the Rev. Bonnie Bell, pastor of Immanuel United Methodist Church.
“The evening will end when questions have been completed,” she said. “We hope people will leave with a better understanding of some faith aspects that are new or unfamiliar to them. These dinners are to help people from different faiths and no faith to gain understanding of the views of others. It is a carefully structured experience to ensure that people are respected and given the opportunity to share without discriminating or pre-judging.”
This is Bell’s second Amazing Faith Dinner. The last one she attended was held at Carthage College last spring.
“This will be my first experience as a facilitator,” she said. “I hope to learn more about others while ensuring the flow at my table so that each person will get a good chance to speak in their turn. Along with Erik Carlson, I have worked to enlist the involvement of CUSH religious leaders. I have been the primary liaison with the Milwaukee Interfaith folks. The CUSH RLC has been planning and preparing for this event since the summer. We are excited to provide, through Amazing Faiths Dinners, a new opportunity for people to meet, enjoy food and fellowship and learn about other faith groups from people who live these faiths.”
Rabbi Dena Feingold of Beth Hillel Temple looks forward to the dinner and serving as a table facilitator. She explained that it’s nice for the community to come together and share common values and prayers that we can all say “Amen” to.
‘Listen and learn’
“It will be nice to talk about the theme of Kindness Week and sit at tables that are purposely arranged with a variety of faiths and share our beliefs, customs and traditions,” she said. “The program has been done elsewhere successfully and it gets people to listen and understand and learn new things about the practices of different faiths and traditions.”
Feingold appreciates being able to find common ground among all traditions that attend and explained that it’s perfectly tied into the overall theme of kindness.
“Kindness Week is of course, always kindness in terms of being nice to each other, but it is much more than that,” she said. “It’s empathizing with others and understanding who the others are in the community. This dinner fits in perfectly with that.”
While it may be challenging to imagine finding commonality in a faith dinner that brings such a diverse number of backgrounds together, Carlson said the common thread is simple humanity.
“People are people, and though our individual experiences vary greatly, we all at times struggle with a world bigger than ourselves,” he said. “From people tied to a specific faith or religious institution to those with no spiritual background at all, we feel everyone who participates will have something to share, and hopefully, something to learn from the experience.”
a better world’
Carlson hopes that the dinner will bring forth new relationships and understanding of those who may not otherwise meet or interact in a meaningful way. Enduring positive social change begins with the building of individual relationships rather than coming from the top down, he explained.
“The work for relationship, for justice, for love is not as much a result as it is a process,” he said. “As long as there are gross inequities in our world, as long as there is injustice in Kenosha and beyond, there will be cause for organizations like CUSH and its RLC to help identify and determine the areas that need our attention, to enlist community support in our action and to ground our voice in our individual and collective religious authority. I know I speak for everyone involved with CUSH when I say we are proud to be a small part of working toward a better Kenosha and a better world for all.”