Start a Conversation in Your Community
Emilie Barnett | March 18, 2010
“Communities in Conversation” is a simple idea for a program with powerful potential. Communities can be defined as groups of people living in the same area with much in common but also holding a range of religious and ideological views. The objective of this endeavor includes building on both the intersections and divergences of these groups to strengthen community and our ability to live together, to learn from each other, and be enhanced by the richness of our diversity.
Sponsored by Communities in Conversation, LLC, in cooperation with the Chautauqua Institution and local libraries, “Communities in Conversation” is a network of community-based interfaith study and discussion groups in which individuals from different faith communities meet and, in informal discussion based on the readings provided, learn about each others’ beliefs and practices.
It has been founded in the confidence that through study and sincere dialogue participants will, together, explore common values as well as differences among these traditions in order to better understand, respect, and appreciate each other’s religious convictions. More than that, it is expected that by sharing their values, participants will discover ways to act in harmony to address and, hopefully, ameliorate some of the difficulties we face in our own communities as well as those of our common humanity.
These discussions expand the conversations beyond the halls of academe and the centers of organized religion into the community. A conscious effort is made to keep the venue neutral and the facilitators non-clergy, so that all may be comfortable to participate and share their own experiences. Initial discussions in local libraries have focused on the Abrahamic faith traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and a study guide was provided to each participant to offer an initial introduction to these faiths. As the program develops, it will include other faiths found in our communities, particularly those for which people have expressed an interest, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Native American traditions.
Conversations have been held at the Chautauqua Institution during its Abrahamic Week in the summers of 2007, 2008, and 2009. Participants indicated an interest in having such a program in their home communities. To explore such a possibility, contact was made with the Shaker Heights and Cuyahoga County public libraries in Cleveland, Ohio. They agreed to sponsor an initial series of Conversations. Conversations were held at the main branch of the Shaker Heights library and at the Parma South and Chagrin branches of the County library. These libraries assumed the responsibility for publicizing the program—printing brochures, creating book lists, posting the program on their web sites, and placing information in local newspapers—and providing meeting space. The libraries assumed the cost of these efforts and also provided a $500 Honorarium for a facilitator at each of the discussions.
The Communities in Conversations organization provided the study guide and the resource persons for each faith tradition under discussion. In this series, each was a college professor, although others, including clergy, could fill such a role. The series ran for five and six weeks, and the response exceeded initial expectations. It was necessary to produce additional study guides once the programs were underway.
Chautauqua is now planning to offer Communities in Conversation throughout their summer program.
For more information, including how you can bring the Conversation to your community, contact Emilie Barnett at (216) 921-0594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emilie Barnett is founder of Communities in Conversation, LLC.