Religious Leaders’ Caravan of Reconciliation Report – Fall 2011

Religious Leaders’ Caravan of Reconciliation – Report

Hello, CBB friends! It’s been a busy fall for us at Clergy Beyond Borders since we finished our Caravan of Reconciliation with a “homecoming” on Sept. 25, at Saint Katharine Drexel Roman Catholic Church in Frederick, Maryland. In the weeks since our journey, we’ve been reflecting on the success of the Caravan (18 cities visited; 3,200 miles; more than 6,000 people attended programs), receiving feedback from organizers and supporters and planning for 2012.

Thanksgiving is only a few days away, and we are most thankful for our many supporters, fellow interfaith activists and clergy. Without you, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the Caravan for Reconciliation. We have put together a 6-page report on the Caravan of Reconciliation and we encourage you to check it out by clicking the link above.

If you attended any of our Caravan programs, please let us know how you are practicing interfaith dialogue in your own communities! Feel free to comment below, e-mail us at, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!

A Sanctuary for all Faiths

During the past two weeks, our Caravan for Reconciliation has mostly visited houses of worship and universities, so a trip to Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn on Thursday was unique in content and in what we found there.

Our local organizer at the Islamic Center of America, Eide Alawan, had arranged for us to talk to doctors, nurses and other hospital staff about end-of-life issues and inter-religious understanding and dialogue in hospitals. Nearly 35 health care professionals took time from their busy day to attentively listen to Imam Yahya Hendi, Rabbi Gerald Serotta, Rev. Ken Bedell and Rev. Steven Martin.

After a generous lunch, our hosts were eager to show us their new “Sanctuary,” where patients, visitors and staff can pray in the center of the hospital and practice their many faith traditions from Christianity to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.. It was clear that hospital staff at Oakwood is not only proud of the Sanctuary, but that respecting their patients’ many faiths is important to them. Oakwood Hospital’s Sanctuary is open 24 hours a day and is connected to the hospital’s Spiritual Support Office.

We were impressed by how thoughtfully the Sanctuary incorporated space for different faith traditions while respecting the integrity of each religious practice. For Clergy Beyond Borders, the Sanctuary was a beautiful manifestation of our principle of respectful religious pluralism. When I took the photo on the left, below, there was a separate but connected room behind me in the Sanctuary for Muslims to pray. Glass panels can be moved in place for privacy while allowing visitors to the Sanctuary to view others’ religious practices and learn from them. The stained glass window on the right, below, can be seen from outside the Sanctuary in the hallway.

Inter-Religious Preaching in Chattanooga, TN

Have you ever heard an Imam give a rousing, passionate Sunday sermon at a Methodist church in Tennessee? And get a standing ovation from nearly 700 people?

Clergy Beyond Borders’ first stop in Tennessee on Sunday was an 11a.m. service at Christ United Methodist Church in Chattanooga. The church’s pastor, Rev. Mark Flynn, is a long-time friend of our Rev. Steven Martin and the church welcomed us warmly after the service. We came back to the church in the afternoon for a smaller gathering that provided thoughtful, intelligent discussion on interfaith dialogue and respectful pluralism.

Many thanks to Christ United! Listen closely:

Sunday sermon at Christ United


What We’re Up Against

On Friday morning we stopped in a bookstore, Books for Less, a few miles away from the Islamic Center of North Fulton in Alpharetta, Ga., where we were heading for afternoon services. We had been trying unsuccessfully to find a Barnes & Noble where Rev. Steven Martin was going to meet up with a friend so that he could drive back to Tennessee for a few days, but Books for Less was the only bookstore we found in the area. So, naturally curious and looking for a few moments of rest, we walked in and were dismayed to see this front-and-center display of books in the “Christianity” section.

These books illustrate what Clergy Beyond Borders is up against – the spread of misguided, incorrect information about Islam that plays on Americans’ fear of Islam and portrays Muslims as gun-wielding terrorists and jihadis.

The fact that this bookstore is in Alpharetta is telling. The Islamic Center of North Fulton is bursting at the seams and wants to replace its small, aging facility into a much larger mosque but the city council rejected its plans last year and stated that the Islamic Center was backing out of previous agreements with the city not to expand. On Saturday, Clergy Beyond Borders went back to Alpharetta and met with the Muslim community of North Fulton, community members and representatives from various Christian churches to discuss how the community can move forward, work together and respect religious freedom and pluralism in Alpharetta. The discussion was peaceful and positive.

And those fearful and ridiculous books at Books for Less? With the permission of the cashier – who told us she was Wiccan – we set out a few copies of our booklet, “Inter-Religious Dialogue – Guides and Resources” on the counter. It’s a small but necessary step toward fighting the vast amount of incorrect information about not only Islam, but also Christianity and Judaism.

Upcoming Caravan for Reconciliation Events – Week 2

11a.m., Sunday – Christ United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN

2p.m., Sunday – “From Fear to Faith: Advancing American Voices for Religious Pluralism,” Christ United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN

5:30 – 7p.m., Sunday – “From Fear to Faith: Advancing American Voices for Religious Pluralism,” First Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN

6-8p.m., Monday – “From Fear to Faith: Advancing American Voices for Religious Pluralism,” (Tennessee Room, James Union Building) Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN

7 – 8:30p.m., Tuesday – “From Fear to Faith: Advancing American Voices for Religious Pluralism,” Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY

5 – 6p.m., Wednesday – gathering with students at Xavier University (Gallagher Student Center), Cincinnati, OH

2 – 3:30p.m., Thursday – speaking with students at Henry Ford Community College, Detroit, MI

1:30p.m., Friday – khutba at Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (OH)

6:15-7:15p.m., Friday – shabbat services at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Cleveland, OH

5 – 7p.m., Saturday – “From Fear to Faith: Advancing American Voices for Religious Pluralism,” Islamic Center of Greater Toledo (OH)

12 – 1:30p.m., Sunday – speaking to students at Mercersburg Academy, Mercersburg, Pa.

4p.m., Sunday – interfaith homecoming with Gov. Martin O’Malley at Saint Katharine Drexel Roman Catholic Church, Frederick, Md.

Lunch at The Varsity…

As we wrap up our 3-day stay in Atlanta today, we want our supporters and colleagues in interfaith work to know that we’re having some fun in this welcoming city. You didn’t think that CBB was all work and no play, did you?

Well, Rev. Steven Martin – a Methodist minister, videographer/photographer and executive director of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good – introduced us to the greasy wonder that is The Varsity. He patiently explained the art of what and how to order (chili dog, mustard, F.O., peach pie) to myself, Imam Yahya Hendi and our colleague Rich Eisendorf.

Imam Hendi snagged some kitschy Varsity hats for us to wear and we were set. Rabbi Amy Eilberg didn’t join us because she understandably wasn’t sure if the food was kosher. For the record – we asked, and Varsity hot dogs are beef. Lesson learned – interfaith togetherness can stop at the questionable chili dog. 🙂

Inside the Caravan: “Interfaith Roadshow,” by Rabbi Amy Eilberg

It’s the end of Day 5 for the Caravan of Reconciliation, and we’re holed up in the Marriott Residence Inn on Peachtree Street in Atlanta after a unique interfaith program at the King Center. And we’re still hard at work, strategizing, unwinding, discussing the next day, making phone calls to family and ordering Chinese food. During this trip, we hope to feature CBB clergy’s perspectives and reflections on their time with the Caravan. Our first guest post is by Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first woman ordained as a conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Her post first appeared today in the Star Tribune


by Rabbi Amy Eilberg

The joke has been going around a lot in recent days. “A rabbi, a Catholic priest and an imam walked into a bar . . . ” In fact, on the morning of September 11th, a rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and an imam boarded a van emblazoned with symbols evoking religious pluralism for a fifteen-day, interstate “Caravan of Reconciliation,” sponsored by the D.C.-based non-profit, “Clergy beyond Borders.”   Each morning before departing for our engagements of the day, Imam Yahya Hendi, Islamic chaplain at Georgetown University and an internationally renowned progressive imam, at the wheel, summons us to prayer.  Yesterday morning I began by chanting the words of the Psalmist, “How great are your works, O God, your thoughts are very deep.” Our evangelical minister offered a pitch-perfect spontaneous prayer, capturing our collective mood of deep gratitude for our warm relationships and inspired work together.  Imam Hendi, known to his many friends as “Brother Yahya,” offered a melodious chant of the Islamic invocation, “Bismillah Ar-rachman Ar-rachim,” “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful . . . ”  Our day had begun with heartfelt prayer in the three distinct languages of our respective religious traditions, and we set off to teach our message of engaged, religious pluralism.

The caravan, now in Atlanta, Georgia, has presented at between two and four events each day at university campuses, synagogues, churches and Islamic centers.  We have addressed large community events, houses of worship, and small gatherings of students, clergy and community leaders.  We have offered teachings from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions in support of respectful engagement with people of other religions. We have spoken of the imperative to counter rising trends of religious intolerance in contemporary America. We have shared our own personal stories of passionate engagement between and among religious communities and intoned prayers for peace.

There have been moments of deep inspiration and love, hilarious exchanges of self-deprecating religious jokes, strategy sessions about pedagogy, media relations, and electronic gadgetry, hugs, and loving laughter.  Traveling hundreds of miles a day in a small, crowded van, we are a microcosm of the world we seek to build, in which people of different religions connect deeply with one another, and join their particular religious commitments to work together for justice and peace.

This morning a Christian theology student at Emory University’s Candler Seminary came up to me at the end of our session and spoke in heartfelt tones, “I’m not sure how many of the details of your talks I’ll remember two or three weeks from now.  But I will hold in my heart the image of the loving relationships among you.  That is the way it should be.”  Amen.