Photo: LICA retreat

Interfaith Clergy Deepen Relationships in MA

Photo: LICA group

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.

Founded in 1971, the group’s focus is to promote 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.

“An interfaith clergy association,” said EP Senior Associate Maggie Herzig, “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.”

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.

“A truly multi-faith group”

Essential Partners collaborated with LICA over several years through a series of 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, Essential Partners created a space in which members could speak openly and deeply. Rather than planning their next activity, members shared personal stories about their faith journeys, the rituals and practices that hold special meaning for them, as well as 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:

“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.

A New Commitment to the Mission

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.

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, Essential Partners and LICA have worked to create a culture of inclusiveness, trust, and curiosity.

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."