The Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies (ICJS) is a non-profit organization that concentrates its educational expertise on the dual tasks of disarming religious hatred and establishing new models of interfaith understanding.
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Reflections of Reclaiming the Center, Atlanta
For clergy and lay participants alike, RTC is reinforcing the essential theological message that we can grow stronger in our own faith and religious identity when we open ourselves to the possibility that enduring truths can be found in the faith traditions of others as well.
The following reflections have been written by the Rev. Betsy Turner of Columbia Theological Seminary, Tallapoosa Presbyterian Church, Tallapoosa, GA, and Rabbi Ron Segal of Temple Sinai, Sandy Springs, GA.
Photo: Reclaiming the Center Sandy Springs Class
For the last few years, I've had the pleasure of working with two congregations in Midtown Atlanta and six congregations in Sandy Springs as they engaged in the “Reclaiming the Center” program. That's three years of conversation, three years of growing friendships, three years of learning—all of which has changed who I am as a person and as a pastor, how I approach my own faith, and how I interact with others. In our broken and contentious world, the headlines are all about conflict, our leaders struggle to find even small pieces of common ground, and mistrust and hatred, sometimes escalating to violence, are the order of the day. So it is such a breath of fresh air—and it gives me hope—to study with Jews and Christians in synagogues and churches and be part of a true dialogue between people of different faiths.
As the administrator for the program for both of our Atlanta “Reclaiming the Center” communities, I'm in charge of the names. I get the lists from the congregations, record the registration forms, create the rosters, and hand out the name tags. I know all the names. But what happens during the “Reclaiming the Center” sessions is that I get to put not only faces with those names, but also stories. That's the beauty of this program, that it invites people to reflect on their own stories and to bring them to the table. Everyone is able to share, to ponder, to struggle, and to learn together around a table of new friends from different congregations. And at “Reclaiming the Center,” that's a safe table, because the other people around that table are part of a sacred covenant to listen, reflect, and respect the stories of each participant. We disagree, but we are never disagreeable. We argue, but it is sacred arguing. We have vigorous dispute, but there is never disrespect. It is holy ground, and I am thankful to stand upon it.
By the Rev. Betsy Turner
(February 27, 2013)
A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution carried this headline: “Newtown pastor reprimanded over prayer vigil” (AJC, 2/8/13, p. A2). In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a local Lutheran pastor had the audacity (italics mine) to participate along with clergy of other faith traditions in a communal prayer service* of peace, comfort, remembrance, and healing, a service also attended by President Obama and Connecticut’s governor. Following what I would imagine to be a meaningful and important community effort, however, the pastor was reprimanded by his church synod for condoning joint worship and giving the impression that alternative theological expressions were also valid.
Nearing the completion of year two of our community’s involvement with the ICJS “Reclaiming the Center” initiative, I admit I read this article with a measure of understandable dismay. However, upon reflection, I also felt a genuine sense of personal gratitude to be associated with a synagogue and a broader faith community in Sandy Springs, GA, that are openly embracing the power and potential of interfaith dialogue, study, relationship building, and sacred arguing. For clergy and lay participants alike, RTC is reinforcing the essential theological message that we can grow stronger in our own faith and religious identity when we open ourselves to the possibility that enduring truths can be found in the traditions of others as well. RTC has fostered the powerful opportunity for members of six different congregations in our community to sit together and learn to appreciate that each individual holds a piece of a beautiful, sacred puzzle. It is a puzzle that, when finally completed, will, I believe, truly depict peace. May the day come soon when peoples of all faith traditions will be willing to sit at this sacred table with us.
By Rabbi Ron Segal
(February 11, 2013)