Interfaith Clergy Deepen Relationships

The Challenge

The Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association (LICA) is a unique and productive organization. LICA is made up leaders from different faith communities in Lexington, Massachusetts, including Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Christian Scientists, and Unitarian Universalists. Started in 1971, the group’s main focus is promoting interfaith fellowship and social justice. LICA gathers for monthly lunch meetings, organizes volunteer opportunities and responds collectively when crises occur or controversies erupt in the larger community. Although many members of the group have worked together for years, their time-limited lunch meetings and action-oriented agendas left little opportunity to cultivate strong interpersonal relationships. Tasked with representing their respective faith communities, the leaders could rarely take the time or space to discuss their personal faith journeys and social commitments in an engaged, generative way. 

The Action

Public Conversations has worked with LICA over several years through multi-day retreats designed to create a culture of rich dialogue and open exchange. The ultimate purpose was to create an environment that allowed the group to deepen their relationships as individuals and people of faith. With the help of a planning committee, Public Conversations created a space in which members could speak openly and deeply. Rather than focusing on planning their next activity, members shared personal stories about their personal faith journeys, the spiritual rituals and practices that hold special meaning for them,  and their hopes for the work they do together to strengthen the Lexington community and meet urgent needs. Paul Schupe, who leads the Hancock United Church of Christ, described it most heartfully:

Paul Schupe, who leads the Hancock United Church of Christ, described it most heartfully:

A lot of groups like ours function on  the level of tolerance (a polite veneer that we put on everything), talking at the level of highest common denominators - in other words, the language that won’t offend anybody. We had a desire to be deeper, to develop a level of trust in which we could speak more fully and freely about our individual truths and faith commitments in an atmosphere of trust. As a progressive Christian voice, I wanted to speak without worrying about offending my Jewish or Buddhist colleagues. I wanted to talk about what Jesus means to me with the surety that my rabbi friends aren’t going to be feeling that my commitment to Jesus makes them lesser in my eyes. I wanted to hear and did hear a Muslim member speak fully and freely about how he came to faith, what it means for him, and how difficult it is for Muslims today. I wanted to hear that without him fearing that we shared the mistrust that he encounters every day. This process helped us to be a truly multi-faith group. Rather talking about what we share, we were able to be who we truly are as people of faith, without animosity or fear."

The Shift

Through carefully designed conversation, the group made an important distinction in the purpose of different spaces they operated in together, and adjusted their expectations accordingly. “Multifaith encounters,” were defined as full and unconstrained expressions of belief, whereas in “interfaith events,” the group would model to the community ways in which they stand together on important issues, and be less concerned with exemplifying all that matters to them individually in their own tradition. They got to deeper levels of honesty with each other, forged closer bonds, especially with newer members. In addition to recommitting to their shared purpose as activists and faith leaders in Lexington, they reinvested in their group relationships and their mission. Together, Public Conversations and LICA worked to create a culture of inclusivity, trust, and curiosity, which will only continues to deepen.

Said one member, “Your kind, clear and well thought out process made for a wonderfully rich time together that will impact our faith communities and town for years to come. Thanks for not only leading us well but actually caring deeply for each of us and for our united cause."

Check out more photos from the retreat!

Practitioner perspective

An interfaith clergy association has the opportunity to individually and collectively bring deep faith and love to the social and political challenges of the towns and cities they serve and to model their commitments to religious pluralism. LICA embraces those roles. How inspiring and heart-warming it was to work with them to design and facilitate their retreat. Our work allowed them, each thoughtful leaders in their own communities, to shape their retreat plans in collaboration with us then to simply be participants, fully engaged with each other, leaving facilitation to us.

Practitioner perspective

It's been a privilege to have worked with LICA over a long period of time and to have seen the increasing desire of its members to connect with each other at deeper levels. The "sound of the genuine" so eloquently spoken of by Howard Thurman permeated the atmosphere of their gathering, enhancing trust and making richer speaking and listening possible.

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It’s amazing how closely we can work together on certain projects and never know what about our faith motivates our work. This work deepened my appreciation for everyone who was there; hearing everyone's stories helped me to appreciate them more and the depth of their convictions, even when they’re convictions I don’t share.

Paul Schupe, Hancock United Church of Christ

Before we worked with Bob and Maggie, I remember thinking “we don’t need a moderator or facilitator; we can do this on our own.” But wow, do we need them. You feel cared for in the midst of it. They are very clear with their instructions and their forethought about how they put the retreat together, all of the interviews, all of that - it all makes for a very successful time together. I’m a pretty big believer in them and their preparation and execution. Overall, they are invaluable to making this a successful retreat.

Richard Rhodes, Grace Chapel

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