MAY 2005

Listening to and Learning from Asia’s Pain

Interfaith Relations Newsletter
Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations

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Goals of Dialogue Training 

Learn how to:

1. Listen without thinking of what to say next.

2. Appreciate others' beliefs.

3. Suspend judgment.

4. Be self-critical about your own beliefs.

5. Be aware of insights arising from the dialogue.

Interfaith Dialogue Training 

      The first pilot event of the Interfaith Dialogue Training Program was held March 11 and 12, in Columbus, OH. Co-sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Central Ohio, 22 participants from 7 religious communities participated. Following the 2 day experiential training the participants continued to meet every other week for six more times to sharpen their dialogical skills. Our special thanks go out to Rev. Les Stansbury, Dr. Tarunjit Butalia, Dr. Ma’ani and many others in Columbus who helped organize this event.

        The next pilot event will be held in Queens, NY at  the Bishop Molloy Retreat House (86-45 Edgerton Blvd. Jamaica) on May 25 and 26 (9:00 a.m.—4:00 p.m. each day) and will be co-sponsored by the Queens Federation of Churches.  

Our special thanks go out to Rev. Skip L’Heureax and Dr. Lucinda Mosher for their work to organize this. To see a flyer and register online please go to:

      We expect to be able to take this initiative to many local communities across the country from this fall onwards.

      The trainer, Jeffrey Spahn of Leaders Leading Leaders of Chicago,  an institute that specializes in diversity training, received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Jewish-Christian Dialogue Continues

        Despite challenges brought about by the Presbyterian Church (USA) resolution to study phased selective divestment from corporations that do business in the State of Israel, the Jewish-Christian Dialogue table begun last year continues.

        Representatives of NCC member communions and mainstream Jewish organizations, will gather next on May 13th in Washington DC.  There are  two main agenda items:

·             A joint trip to the Middle East now scheduled for September 17-23, and

·             A proposal to expand the dialogue table by encouraging the leaders of the  Commissions, Boards and Committees of our organizations to come to similar dialogue tables.

        We will also engage in a continuing discussion of ground rules of our conversation and how we speak to each other, our constituents and the media.

        Following several years of a University of Chicago Divinity School sponsored consultation, Jewish and Christian scholars and leaders issued a very helpful document entitled: “What we have learned from each other: A Report on a Jewish-Protestant Conversation about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict.”  The document is available at:

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 New Opportunities in Muslim -Christian Relations

           God Is One: The Way of Islam, written by retired United Methodist minister Marston Speight is a primer on Islam for Christians.  It was re-published in 2001, following 9/11, with a study guide for churches, written by Jay Rock, Director of Interfaith Relations at the Presbyterian Church (USA) and my predecessor at the NCC.

      Having received significant affirmation from the Muslim community, we have formed a partnership with Islamic Society of North America and Hartford Seminary to encourage churches to use this book in Adult Education groups.

      Participating churches will send their leader/s to a day-long training conducted by Hartford professors who are themselves Muslims.

       A part of the six week curriculum is meeting Muslim persons and visiting a local mosque. ISNA will prepare the mosques to receive Christian visitors. Discover Islam Foundation will provide resource materials to churches that undertake to participate in the project.

The project aims to:

·             Increase the knowledge of Islam among Christians

·             Improve Christians’ attitude towards Muslims

·             Explore church-mosque relationships

        The next training is scheduled for Saturday, June 18th at Hartford Seminary. In the early fall we will have another training in New York. We are hoping to have at least 40 churches doing study groups this fall.

A Buddhist Temple in Galle, Sri Lanka stands in the midst of the tsunami rubble

Muslim-Christian Dialogue  Planned 

        A Muslim-Christian Dialogue Table similar to the present Jewish- Christian Dialogue, involving Ecumenical and Interfaith officers of our Communions and representatives of Islamic organizations is being planned.

       Since the Christians who will sit at both tables are likely to be the same, we expect that there will be significant cross-fertilization between the two tables. As we have asserted to our Jewish colleagues that the dialogue needs to include Muslims, we are hopeful that over a period of time the two tables might merge.

        ISNA will invite participants to the dialogue table that represent the variety of Islamic traditions. We expect that this dialogue table will begin shortly after Ramadan, this November.

ISNA Invites Christian

Leaders to Convention   

      We have received a warm invitation  from the Islamic Society of North America to bring an ecumenical group of Christian leaders to the 42nd Annual Convention of ISNA to be held over the Labor Day weekend at the Rosemont Convention Center in Chicago.

      The annual ISNA convention draws about 35,000 people including Muslim leaders from around the country and around the world.

      Participants will be welcome to:

·             attend all plenary sessions and workshops

·             visit the bazaar, where more than 500 publishers, charitable and advocacy organizations, sellers of religious articles, etc.  have booths

·             observe Muslim prayers in the conference prayer hall

·             meet and talk with American Muslims of all ages, and many cultural and ethnic backgrounds

·             gather for prayer, reflection,  raise questions, discuss insights and ideas,

·             talk with invited Muslim leaders and speakers

·             relax or meet in the seminar room during the day

      Please call  or email Deidre Lee for registration information. 

Contact Us… 

Rev. Dr. Shanta PremawardhanaAssociate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations
Phone: 212-870-2560
Fax: 212-870-2817

Ms. Deidre Lee
Administrative Assistant
Phone: 212-870-3403

National Council of the Churches, USA
475 Riverside Drive #880
New York, NY 10115

Website: 5 4

Prithipura Children’s Home: Sri lanka's premier interfaith venture

Prithipura (City of Joy) Home for Differently-Abled Children was started by Rev. Bryan de Kretser, a Presbyterian Minister, as an interfaith venture. To date, its Board comprises Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious leaders and is still the premier interfaith venture in Sri Lanka. Presently, 85 children whose mental age is 0-8 are resident there, although the biological age of the oldest resident is 44.

      On December 26, 2004, tsunami waters covered the entire premises with over four feet of muddy water from the nearby lagoon, destroying beds, furniture, wheel chairs, refrigerators, washing machines and vegetation on the entire property. The people in the nearby village came quickly and helped remove the children to safety. They stayed in another facility until their home was cleaned up and ready again. (The wheel chairs in the picture, left, were being cleaned. Most had to be discarded.

      On March 28th when an earthquake struck Indonesia and tsunami warnings were issued in Sri Lanka, they had to evacuate the children again, this time in the middle of the night.

      Now they are considering building a second floor to a portion of the existing building, as a safe place for evacuating the children. Their greatest need at the moment is to raise funds for this project. If you’d like to support this interfaith venture, you may send your contribution to the address below indicating that it is for the Tsunami relief and designated to Prithipura.

An Interfaith/Peace Build for Sri Lanka: A New Partnership

A new opportunity for a partnership between Habitat for Humanity International, National Council of Churches, USA/Church World Service, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka is emerging.

      The partnership proposes building 100 houses near the city of Galle, in the model of Habitat’s Interfaith/Peace Builds, in which, volunteers both from different religious communities and from conflicted groups will come together to build houses. Habitat has observed that bringing people together to put a hammer to nail in building a house for someone else creates opportunities for new relationships that would otherwise be impossible.

      In the Sri Lankan context, the partners will bring together Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian participants as well as volunteers who are Sinhalese and Tamil.

      We are hoping that this project will get underway this summer. US churches will also be able to send work-groups to assist in the building of houses in Sri Lanka. Please call or email Deidre Lee for further information.


Interfaith Relations Commission

      The Interfaith Relations Commission, comprising representatives from the NCC’s 36 communions and invited members, meets twice a year to help coordinate this work.

      At our meeting in February in St. Petersburg, Fla. we began to think through what it means for us to “Listen to and Learn from Asia’s Pain.” We also heard from representatives of the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Tampa chapter about the impact of the USA PATRIOT act on Muslims living in the US, including the particular case of Dr. Sami Al-Aryan, a former Florida State University professor imprisoned without legal representation. We agreed that we encourage Christians to stand in solidarity with Muslims and speak out against such injustices.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 15-Saturday, Sept. 17, 2005 at the University of Chicago Divinity School in Chicago.


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