|Long Island Multi-Faith Forum|
The Long Island Multi-Faith Forum (MFF) is a joint initiative of the Long Island Council of Churches and Auburn Theological Seminary. MFF's goal is to promote social change for increased religious tolerance through interfaith understanding and cooperation among the diverse religious traditions that exist on Long Island. Founded in 1994, the MFF promotes understanding among the diverse religious heritages of our region through its "Building Bridges" educational programs, multi-faith festivals, educational publications and videos.
Supported by a grant from the Long Island Universalist Unitarian Fund, the MFF created and produced publications on each of the religious traditions present on Long Island, entitled "An Introduction to Your Neighbors' Religions," and developed a "Building Bridges" video entitled "Your Neighbors' Faiths" that has been used in workshops and panel discussions throughout the region. More than 100 moderators and panelists have also been trained. They have given more than 127 presentations since the MFF's inception.
When the MFF was founded in 1994, adherents of Long Island's dominant religions - Christianity and Judaism - were largely unaware that other faith communities also reside in the region. Adherents of these other faith communities found that their religious holidays were often given no credence at school, their dietary needs were ignored, and they were often discriminated against when they sought to purchase housing and other property. Area hospitals, accustomed to isolating sick patients and allowing minimal visiting time, often would not honor their custom of surrounding those who are ill with other family and friends, nor would they accommodate their dietary wishes. The MFF was created in response to these social needs. It reached out to the diverse religious communities and gathered together representatives from 12 different faith traditions to address these and other social issues, and to include them in decisions affecting both themselves and the larger community life of the region. The MFF continues to be a social change agent to improve understanding and tolerance among the increasingly diverse populations that live on Long Island.
The MFF is an entirely volunteer operated organization of over 100 committed individuals from a dozen different faith traditions. Its leaders and members are laypeople living, working, and raising families on Long Island. The MFF currently includes representatives from 11 different faith-based communities. Its model for interfaith cooperation and community education is unique in the United States. The faith traditions are: Baha'i, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhist, Christianity, Hindu, Islam, Jain, Judaism, Native American, Sikh, and Unitarian Universalist. A 12th, Yoga Spirituality, is currently inactive. Members of these faith traditions conduct the "Building Bridges" educational programs described below.
As part of our outreach to youth, the MFF trains teenagers to do presentations to younger youth. Because anti-bias incidents against the minority religious traditions tend to be carried out by teenagers, we are delighted that young people are responding so enthusiastically to our new outreach initiatives.
The MFF provides the following educational programs:
Building Bridges programs that promote systematic change are requested by churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, worksites, prisons, home health care agencies, hospitals and hospice networks and other community-based organizations. Typically a 60- to 90-minute presentation includes a 20-minute video produced by the MFF that describes the diverse faith traditions represented on Long Island. The video depicts houses of worship, clothing, music, ritual, a brief history of each religion, and its most salient theological principles. Programs also include presentations by several different faith panelists, and a question and answer period.
At the Nassau County Correctional Center we use the Building Bridges program to train new corrections officers in interfaith spirituality, teaching them, for example, how to supervise Muslim worship services without giving offense, and how to handle a Quran with respect while searching a Muslim prisoner's cell. We have trained medical personnel for Catholic Health Services, the Nursing Sisters Home Care, and the Hospice Care Network, teaching them how to handle cross-gender physical contact with Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. We trained hospice workers about what they need to know when entering a South Asian household, and we have trained medical personnel at the Stony Brook Medical School in interfaith perspectives for end-of-life care issues. In the wake of September 11th, we provided interfaith education for evangelical churches that had previously had no interest in interfaith education but, after September 11th, suddenly wanted to get to know their Muslim neighbors. In all cases we believe the Multi-Faith Forum has made lasting social changes in these institutions.
All-day Multi-Faith Festivals are held periodically, usually at educational institutions (colleges and high schools). Attendance ranges from 750 to 1,200. Festivals include: 1) an open area where each religious tradition displays religious artifacts and answers questions about its faith tradition; 2) joint presentations in auditoriums where panelists from the various faith traditions tell stories, explain their prayers and other religious rituals, perform dances and other activities that illustrate their religious traditions, and 3) classroom presentations for smaller groups of 15-20 each, at which more in-depth presentations are provided and questions can be entertained.
The MFF's programs affirm the positive values of living in a pluralistic society by promoting interfaith understanding, cooperation, and tolerance. Through its educational programs and festivals, the MFF helps to alleviate the tension and fear caused by crisis situations, and to lay the foundations for religious, racial, ethnic, and cultural tolerance in Long Island's increasingly diverse demographic landscape.