1. Review How to Be a Perfect Stranger (see last item in bibliography) for tips on going to visit the religious community you have selected. Some of the advice will apply to the leaders visit to prepare for your later group visit, e.g., standards about womens dress.
2. Prepare information and instruction handouts:
a. As you meet with community leaders of the other religion, collect some basic self definitions and information about basic beliefs and practices that they will consider appropriate for you to supply to your members.
b. Ask the religious communitys leaders about etiquette for your visit and/or arrange instructions taken from a resource such as How to Be a Perfect Stranger. Remember that others may assume certain behaviors that you do not understand (e.g., forms of dress, appropriate posture for standing or sitting, patterns of speech or quiet) and may not mention important concerns, especially if they are not accustomed to receiving guests.
3. Obtain a copy of Interfaith Relations and the Churches and materials about the sponsoring organization for your study series to take to the leaders of the community you plan to visit. Determine, through conversation with them, if some type of gift will be appropriate when you go to visit with your group.
Encounter of Faiths?
Goals for this session:
To visit one community of another religious tradition in order to
respectfully observe some aspect of their religious practice and
talk with members of the hosting community about what it means to live as religious people within their religious tradition
The vitality of this part of the study depends to a great extent on the quality of the visits that are arranged. This will require some flexibility of scheduling and careful planning. Unless a very strong relationship already exists, it is essential that one or more of the planners make a prior visit to the community which will be visited, in order to build some minimum degree of trust and to communicate clearly about the intention of the visit and what is desired. You should expect that your visit opens the door to further relationships with the group that is approached and to the possibility of reciprocal requests for hospitality or help. You may want to share a copy of Interfaith Relations and the Churches, the NCCC policy statement, with them and briefly explain its relation to what you are doing.
In planning and carrying out a visit, avoid anything that might invite confusion or that could violate the integrity of your group or the host community. Distribute etiquette suggestions in advance through which you provide guidance in this area. The guidance sheet may indicate, for example, that your group will sit at the back of the room in a mosque during Friday noon prayers rather than standing with those who are praying, or, that you will not receive prasadthe food given to all worshipersat the Hindu temple, even though the hosts would have been prepared to offer it. The sheet may also indicate, for example, that your group is expected to avoid confrontational questions that challenge the right of your hosts to be present in your town as a worshiping community. Standards for integrity may vary from group to group, depending on the degree of familiarity and trust that exists in advance.
It may be helpful to begin interfaith contacts by going to visit a community of another religious tradition with which the group has some familiarity, e.g., a Jewish congregation, a Muslim community, or another faith group known by the leaders or participants. If your hosts will be comfortable with your doing so, plan to be present during some kind of community activity such as worship.
Some local groups feel confident about meeting with people of other religions, while others find such encounters new and disquieting. If your group is likely to be particularly at ease, you may want to plan several visits, to be followed by an extended session for reflection. The outline presented here, however, is designed for groups who want to make one visit.
Begin with orientation.
It is most comfortable if you, as a visiting group, arrive at the site of the hosting congregation at the same time. Expect your group members to be prompt. Enter together as a group. Plan to meet for a brief orientation with one of the leaders of the host community. Introduce yourselves to the leader and make a brief statement about your purpose in coming. Arrange for the leader to give a brief orientationa thumbnail introduction to the community and, most importantly, an explanation of what the group will be invited to observe and who they will be meeting. Try to be clear about the extent of participation that you have mutually agreed in advance will be appropriate.
Observe and converse with respect.
Following the orientation, the group can proceed as instructed to observe the scheduled service, prayer, meditation, or ritual of the community. A conversation can be held afterward with some members of the host community. This should be arranged in advance and carefully planned with leaders of that community. The length of this conversation may vary but should not be an imposition on the hosts.
A Vatican document released in the year 2000 has said, "Equality, which is a presupposition of interreligious dialogue, refers to the equal personal dignity of the parties in dialogue" (Dominus Iesus, section 22). Help your group, in advance, to feel comfortable with the nature of interreligious conversation by talking about the importance of this respect.
It is important that the topic for your discussion be agreed upon with the host groups leaders. A good question to propose for the focus of discussion is, What does it mean to live as religious people in our respective religious traditions? Other effective ground breakers include topics like prayer, family life, or festivals in the particular tradition you are visiting.
Meet briefly in your own group.
Your group may want to meet together briefly at the conclusion of your visit to review plans for your next session and to close with prayer together. This gathering should occur in some space other than your host communitys facility.