Local Interfaith Efforts Celebrate Diverse Triad Community
The Piedmont Interfaith Council celebrated 34 years of giving thanks with their “We Are One” program on November 13.
The event took place at Guilford College’s Dana Auditorium and featured local musicians and multicultural dance performances.
Critically-acclaimed Piedmont singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett opened the event and was followed by performances from the choral group, One Human Family, the Unitarian Universalist Church Choir and musician Patrick Rock.
Healing Blues, a project between homeless storytellers and musicians, also performed.
The event also functioned as a food drive for Out of the Garden Project, an endeavor that donates food to students and families at schools throughout the Triad area.
Akir Khan, Chair of the Interfaith Council, highlighted the importance of the council’s work in bringing individuals of different races, religions and spiritualities to “come together so we are one.”
Interfaith work is a hallmark of American civic engagement. The first institutionalized interfaith effort occurred during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago when the inaugural meeting of the World’s Congress of Religion took place.
The late 20th Century in America witnessed a rise in interfaith councils, partially in response to increasingly diverse demographics due to immigration. Interfaith efforts doubled after the two World Wars as American society regrouped.
The Civil Rights movement also promoted the power of congregational organizing, solidifying the role of faith-based organizations as agents of social change.
The first local effort began during the 175th Anniversary Celebration of the City of Greensboro when Dr. James E. Hull was asked to bring together various faith leaders. The positive response to ecumenical engagement led to the formation of the Piedmont Interfaith Council, founded in 1983 by Dr. Hull and his wife, Jo Welch Hull.
The Celebration of Thanks became a yearly program.
In addition to the annual celebration, some of the organization’s achievements include helping establish the Interfaith Chapel at Moses Cone Hospital, and ongoing dialogue with faith-based institutions.
The council visits faith-based groups throughout the year and provides engagement opportunities while exploring ways to build community.
“Often, if a Church wants to know more about a religion or faith, we can send one of our members to help build bridges of understanding,” Akir Khan said.
The council, which currently represents numerous faith and spiritual traditions, plans to continue interfaith dialogue in 2017. Members consist of individuals from Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Baha’i, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, atheism and agnostic and Universal Unitarian faith practices.
Khan is mindful of increasing faith diversity in the local area. “We used to call the event, ‘An Ecumenical Thanksgiving Celebration’, but we felt this was not being inclusive to those who may practice a faith outside Christianity or to Native Americans.”
This year’s theme, “We Are One” was designed to foster inclusivity and to celebrate the diverse faith landscape of the Triad.
The program featured Hindi voices, Sikh dancers from the Punjabiat dance group, a South Asian dance number and songs performed by the Triad Tapestry Children’s Chorus.
The chorus is one program of the interfaith council. It is a “non-audition opportunity freely available to children of all faiths and backgrounds” according to the council’s website.
Guilford County’s Register of Deeds, Jeff Thigpen, gave the blessing during the event. He is also a 2016-2017 board member of the Piedmont Interfaith Council.
During a phone conversation, he indicated that “interfaith cooperation is totally needed right now. A lot people on one hand say they want our country to move forward, but we have to do the hard work of making that happen. In order to do that, we need to be with each other in full dialogue. Not only to respect diverse communities, but to engage the hard work to figure out what inclusion really needs.”
One criticism of interfaith efforts is that they are designed as feel-good endeavors that don’t result in tangible change for local communities.
Thigpen responds by sharing that interfaith engagement “brings me into a space if I am commanded as a Christian to love the Lord, I am to love my neighbor as such.”
He says that his next door neighbor is Hindu.
“My 9-yr-old son can go outside with his 9-yr-old son. One day they will be playing baseball, the next day, they might be playing cricket. Those relationships are so important for understanding, for the idea of trying to live out values that we all purport to want to live by.”
Regarding the role of interfaith institutions, Thigpen says that, “we have to be willing to act. To lead with our bodies.”
He points out the 21st century harbors the most diverse population ever experienced in America, and one that is the getting younger and older.
Interfaith work, in part, helps to “find space to have those conversations and to figure out what that means for our major institutions,” said Thigpen.
Khan emphasizes that the local interfaith council can “serve a model for others to show the diversity of America.
“I feel this organization can work with others to tackle issues such as poverty, homelessness and education since these issues do not discriminate between races and faiths,” he said. “All Americans are impacted by these topics and it provides an opportunity to create partnerships. Also, Americans who feel voiceless who dis-encouraged about our political process, can view the Piedmont Interfaith Council as a true representation of the diversity and inclusion of America.”
Throughout the evening, Khan asked that that those who engage in interfaith work to be “change agents” for local communities.
“We promote a concept that we are one, as Americans.”
To learn more about the Piedmont Interfaith Council, visit www.piedmontinterfaithcouncil.org.