Here are some practical guidelines on how to go about interreligious dialogue – tips, suggestions, ideas that have worked and opportunities and pitfalls along the way. There are also some reflections on issues that may arise out of interreligious dialogue.
By Patrick McInerney
28 May 2015
- Greet neighbours from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds with a friendly smile;
that’s all it takes to start a journey of discovery that will be mutually enriching
- Meet and get to know someone from another religion; personal encounter is the best way to
break down barriers, learn about the other, expand your horizons, and be challenged to explain
your own religious convictions
- Read a reliable book about another religion so that you are better informed
- Ask questions of followers of other religions; if you are sincere and respectful they will not be
offended but will appreciate your interest and be more than happy to satisfy your curiosity
- Visit the place of worship of another religion -mosque, synagogue, temple, gurudwara- on
your own if needs be but preferably with a group to bolster your confidence and to share the
- Acknowledge significant family occasions of colleagues and neighbours from other religious,
ethnic or cultural backgrounds e.g. offer condolences on a death, extend well wishes for a
wedding, give congratulations on a birth; such ordinary human gestures are the stuff of life
- Give greetings to friends and neighbours of different religious and ethnic backgrounds on
religious and national feast days e.g. read and distribute a copy of annual Vatican message for
the major religious feasts of Eid (Islam), Vesakh (Buddhist), Deepavali (Hindu)
- Say a prayer for believers from other religions on their feast days and get your faith community to
do likewise; prayer creates sympathy for fellow creatures and public prayer creates awareness
- Invite colleagues, friends and neighbours for a discussion group or study group on another
- Invite a representative from that religion to speak to your school, congregation or group
- Have a screening in your home, school, or parish of a DVD on interfaith relations (see Resources)
- Work together on common values e.g. family, environment and other social justice issues i.e.
dialogue of action
- Do not allow stereotypical negative comments made at home or at work to go unchallenged.
- Sign up to receive Bridges, the newsletter of the Columban Mission Institute’s Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Sydney, to receive regular reminders of interfaith activities
- Invite a Columban priest or lay missionary from from your local area to your school, parish, or
- Give hospitality – and be open to receive it – e.g. iftar meal during Ramadan; simply sharing a simply sharing meal or a “cuppa” is a great way to break down prejudices and build friendships
Decalogue of Assisi for Peace
These 10 commitments were affirmed by the 200 religious leaders who accepted Pope John Paul II’s invitation and gathered at Assisi in Italy on the 24 January 2004 to pray for peace. The event was just a months after the tragic events in the USA on 9/11/2001 and intended to affirm that violence was incompatible with religion. On the 4th of March 2002 Pope John Paul II sent this text to all the heads of state accredited with the Vatican. The first such interfaith gathering in Assisi had been held on 27 October 1986.
Dialogue in the interreligious, interideological sense is a conversation on a common subject between people with differing views undertaken so that they can learn from one another and grow. These ten principles, formulated by Professor Leonard Swidler, set forth some fundamental ground rules for dialogue.
Click here for an elaborated version of these ten principles, known as “The Dialogue Decalogue“.
The Seven Stages of Deep Dialogue
These seven stages have been delineated by Prof. Leonard Swidler, one of the world’s foremost thinkers in the field of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
An “Asian” Dialogue Decalogue
Principles of Interreligious Dialogue from Asia’s Bishops by James H. Kroeger MM
During the Theological Forum on “Theological Views on Religions and Cultures” held 21-23 July 2011 at the Loyola School of Theology (LST), Fr James Kroeger MM, Professor of Systematic Theology and Missiology at LST, delivered this paper, the link to which is provided below, along with a a pdf file.
PDF file available here: Asian Decalogue for Dialogue
Building Good Relations with People of Different Faiths and Beliefs
The Inter Faith Network for the UK (IFN) works to build good relations between people of different faiths and beliefs, promoting mutual respect and understanding. In 1993, it developed, in consultation with its member bodies, guidance on Building Good Relations with People of Different Faiths and Beliefs. All member bodies subscribe to this guidance, and it has also come to be used by a number of inter faith organizations around the world.
Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue
Produced October 1988 by the Ecumenical Office, Anglican Church of Canada.
Forde, Gerard. A Journey Together: A Resource for Christian Muslim Dialogue. Cork, Ireland: Cois Tine, 2013. http://www.coistine.ie/dialogue-resource.
(a) ESTABLISH OCCASIONS AT WHICH MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS INTERACT AND MEET. These could focus on areas of common interest such as community safety, neighbourhood concerns, or simply to exchange information about customs or religious occasions. These events will help to break down barriers, overcome stereotypes and create relationships. This will allow trust to grow and will, in time, allow tensions or contentious issues to be addressed in a constructive and non-polemical way.
During one of the workshops, a methodology for initial meetings between Muslims and Christians emerged. It specified that it is better to focus discussion on a specific issue rather than a broad topic such as interreligious dialogue. Focusing on a particular issue will let people know that the occasion is not a debate or about potentially contentious religious differences. This is a much more practical approach that will help the development of the shared common ground upon which people of both faiths may safely engage in dialogue. Using this method participants can:
- Come to know that they are welcome.
- Gain an experience of interaction which is constructive and not argumentative.
- Realise that their beliefs will be respected.
A neutral body could best facilitate initial contact between Muslims and Christians in a local area. Perhaps a voluntary organisation or the local authority could fulfil this function. In this way, Muslim and Christian communities would be equal participants in the process. Initial meetings should take place in a communal location where all participants can feel welcome and comfortable.
(b) ESTABLISH A REGIONAL OR LOCAL MUSLIM CHRISTIAN FORUM. This structure could be both a forum for discussion and be responsible for overseeing the implementation of many of the suggestions made here. To succeed, a forum needs the participation of religious leaders from both faiths who could oversee the dialogue process in the local area. Agreed guidelines for dialogue could be established. The forum could, if necessary, have a mediation role that helps prevent community tensions and also be a credible body to challenge unfair media coverage.
(c) MAKE USE OF EXISTING CULTURAL, ART, SPORTING, SOCIAL AND LOCAL COMMUNITY EVENTS as occasions where mutual understanding appreciation and trust can grow, and where Muslims and Christians can experience “we” rather than “us” and “them.” Muslims should be invited to participate and also be willing to do so.
(d) OCCASIONS FOR EDUCATION AND EXCHANGE ARE NEEDED. Talks and presentations can help to increase understanding and to overcome barriers. If and when visits to each other’s places of worship take place, these occasions need to be explained and guided. This will ensure that offence or embarrassment is avoided and that the mutual respect needed for dialogue is shown.
(e) RESOURCES, INFORMATION MATERIALS, WORKSHOPS AND COURSES SHOULD BE MADE AVAILABLE by Muslim and Christian groups to promote a true understanding of each other. Courses could also have a particular focus on preparing people to engage in dialogue.
(f) MAKE BETTER USE OF THE MEDIA. Faith groups should use local media positively to promote interreligious understanding and respect. Journalists should be provided with information, thus making it easy for them to publish good news stories about Muslims and Christians. The media could also be used to publicise interfaith activities or events. In addition, inaccurate or biased reporting should be challenged.
(g) CONTACT LOCAL FAITH GROUPS with a view to engaging them in the dialogue process. Send faith groups information promoting dialogue in a concise form at that could then be easily used on notice-boards and in church or mosque bulletins.
(h) SEEK OR FACILITATE WAYS FOR FAITH LEADERS TO MEET AND ENGAGE WITH EACH OTHER. This is essential for meaningful dialogue.
(i) ORGANISE OR PARTICIPATE IN AN INTERFAITH PRAYER EVENT.
WHAT WE CAN DO AS INDIVIDUALS
- Make a personal commitment to dialogue and to preparing oneself for dialogue. You do not have to be an expert; but using the internet or resources such as this booklet to inform yourself about your neighbour’s faith will help.
- Engage in dialogue – make an effort to communicate and cooperate with neighbours of different faiths. Be the one who takes the first step.
- Greet neighbours on the occasion of their religious feasts.
- Show respect for the religious customs and practices of others.
- Challenge stereotyping or prejudice.
- Use any opportunity available to interact and mix with members of other faith communities.
- Focus on what we as Muslims and Christians hold in common as the context for dialogue.
- Encourage and teach children to respect people of other faiths and cultures, and to reject prejudice and bias.
- Seek to include or welcome members of other faiths in any activity, community service or voluntary work you may be involved in. Invite them to participate.
- Participate in courses or events at which one can learn more about the faith of others.
DO’S AND DON’TS
To facilitate interaction, contact and dialogue, there is a need to be sensitive to each other’s differing religious requirements and social norms. Some of these are listed here. Hopefully, this information will remove some of the initial fear we may have of causing offence to our dialogue partner.
SENSITIVITY TO GENDER SEPARATION: A Muslim woman is not expected to be alone with any male other than her husband or close male relatives. Therefore, in arranging any meeting or activity involving Muslim women it is courteous to let them know in advance who will be present.
SHAKING HANDS: In general Muslims do not shake hands with people of the opposite sex. If shaking hands does take place, do so with the right hand. It is important that men do not shake the hand of a Muslim woman, unless the latter takes the initiative by holding out her hand.
SHOES: These should be removed when entering the prayer or carpeted area in a Mosque. Some Muslims also remove their shoes at home. Non- Muslims should follow their lead.
DRESS: Muslims, male and female, are expected to dress modestly. This forbids tight body hugging or revealing clothes. Men are expected to be covered from elbows to knees, and women from neck to feet. Muslim women are also expected to wear some form of head covering. In practice, this can vary greatly. Some wear no head covering at all, while others use a variety, such as:
- the hijab, a simple headscarf.
- the niqab, revealing only the eyes.
- the burkah, completely veiling the head and body.
This variety is due to different interpretations of Islamic teaching, culture and social norms. Personal choice and local customs also contribute to this variety.
GREETINGS: “As-Salamu Alaikum” (Peace be upon you) is the normal greeting that Muslims use with each other. While a tiny minority reserve its use for Muslims only, the vast majority of Muslims are happy and will not be offended if a non-Muslim greets them in this way. The response to this greeting is “Wa-alaikum as-Salam” (And Peace be upon you too).
RELIGIOUS DIETARY LAWS: Muslims do not eat pork (this includes ham, bacon and anything made from it like sausages, and many pizza toppings). Meat such as beef, lamb and chicken must be Halal (permitted) – i.e. slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. Fish is permitted and vegetarian food is always acceptable. Most Muslims will eat prawns and similar seafood, but a minority will not. Food such as pastry will not be halal if it is made with lard or animal sourced ingredients. Alcohol is forbidden. For more information see:
www.islamhalal.com and also www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~facilities/documents/GuidetoHalalFoods.pdf
For Christians, no particular foods are forbidden. Alcohol is permitted by most Christian denominations, but becoming drunk is not. Some Christian denominations forbid alcohol. For occasions where Muslims and Christians socialise, the simplest approach would be to serve vegetarian food, fruit and soft drinks. If meat is served then it should be halal.
PLACES TO MEET: Meeting in a Coffee Shop is acceptable, but for many Muslims meeting in a place where alcohol is served is not. If the occasion is a formal interfaith meeting or discussion, a public or communal location would be advisable. When a relationship of trust is established, then meetings could, by mutual agreement, be rotated between Mosque and Church meeting spaces. With regard to times for meetings, avoid Fridays or Sundays, as these are the days for communal prayer in Muslim and Christian communities. Account also needs to be taken of the Feast Days of each religion (see below).
PRAYER TIMES: Muslims pray five times a day (morning, mid-day, mid- afternoon, evening and night). The specific clock times for these prayers varies throughout the year. Interfaith events or meetings may coincide with prayer times. Having a quiet and clean place available for prayer will be appreciated.
SOCIALISING: Muslims have strict views about dress, alcohol, dietary laws and the unsupervised mixing of genders. It is unlikely that Muslims would attend social events where alcohol or pork is served, or where teenagers, male and female, mix freely. These facts need to be taken into account if an interfaith event or social occasion is being organised.
VISITING A MOSQUE OR CHURCH: When visiting the place of worship of the other faith, whether as a group or as an individual, it is best to arrange the visit in advance with the Imam or the Priest/Minister in charge.
In the mosque women are expected to wear a scarf or some head covering and to wear loose, non-revealing clothing that cover the arms and legs. Everyone is required to remove their shoes before entering the main prayer room of the mosque. A mosque will have separate prayer areas for men and women. Christian tradition also expects women to dress modestly in Church. Women may wear a head covering in Church if they so wish, while it is generally accepted that men do not. If however, an Imam was visiting a Church, his traditional headwear would be acceptable. Shoes are not removed.
A non-Muslim present in a Mosque during the Salat Prayer (i.e. the formal prayer that Muslims perform five times each day) should stand respectfully behind or to one side while the prayer is going on. For a Muslim attending a Christian service sitting or standing respectfully is acceptable.
RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS AND OCCASIONS
CHRISTIAN: Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas are the major Christian Feasts. Individual Saints also have particular days when they are remembered. For example, in Ireland, St Patrick’s Day, the 17th of March, is marked both as a feast day and a national holiday. Many Christians also mark the period of Lent, the forty days before Easter, as a time of reflection, fasting and for turning to God. Unlike the specific requirements of Ramadan, the activities of Christians during Lent are a matter of personal choice.
MUSLIM: During the month of Ramadan, the month of the first revelation of the Quran, Muslims fast for 30 days during daylight hours. This concludes with Eid-al-Fitr – the celebration of the breaking of the fast. Eid -al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice recalling Ibrahim’s/Abraham ‘s sacrifice of his son Ishmael, takes place at the end of the annual Hajj Pilgrimage. Milad -un-Nabi (the Prophet’s birthday) is also celebrated by some Muslims.
Note: The Islamic Calendar is lunar, and the year is shorter than the Solar Gregorian Calendar used in the western world. Therefore, according to the solar calendar, Muslim feasts occur about eleven days earlier each year.
At present, many people are simply unaware of the need for interreligious dialogue. Some are not interested while others actively oppose interfaith cooperation. These facts should not stop our efforts to build interaction and understanding between Christians and Muslims.
In Ireland, the multi-religious and multicultural nature of our society is still a relatively new experience. Therefore, for many, the need to make an effort in order to insure that we live together in peace and justice has not yet been fully realised. As people of faith and as people who wish to build social harmony and justice, we have a role to both raise awareness of this need and to actively respond to it. There are people who will listen and who do appreciate the need for mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. We can begin with these and through them others will be convinced of the need for openness and interfaith dialogue.
Extract from Forde, Gerard. A Journey Together: A Resource for Christian Muslim Dialogue. Cork, Ireland: Cois Tine, 2013. http://www.coistine.ie/dialogue-resource .
Believers from different religions live work and play side-by-side in villages, towns and cities around the world. They come together for religious, social and civic occasions. Organizing an interfaith gathering can cause anxiety – for some it may be new and strange; there may be awkwardness in first encounters; there are sensitivities involved; we do not want to offend by inadvertently contravening others’ customs; and so on. Here are some practical guidelines that will facilitate a good meeting and avoid some of the pitfalls:
Guidelines for Organizing Interfaith Meetings
- Provide appropriate and comfortable meeting space for the group.
- Arrange space to allow for democratic participation; be aware of the access needs and dietary restrictions of faith group members.
- Arrive in advance of participants so hospitality is ready and available when participants begin to arrive.
- Have sufficient supplies and copies of materials available for participants in advance.
- Allow adequate time for introductions and use nametags until members are known to the leaders and each other.
- Commit to beginning and ending sessions on time.
- Build the community. Include opening and closing exercises that help participants to get to know the other members of the group.
- Create a climate that supports prayer and reflection. Use the prayers and rituals of various traditions to support learning. Allow time and space for silence as well as for speaking.
- Remind participants that dialogue is as much (perhaps more) about listening as it is about speaking. Practice listening skills with the group if necessary. Insist that put-downs of people or their feelings are unacceptable.
- Plan for a diversity of learning styles using a variety of media, print, visuals, discussion, etc.
- Seek a balance in participation. Watch for individuals or groups who dominate, as well as those who are silent. Encourage everyone, but also give everyone the right to pass in any discussion.
- Make it clear that no member of the group will be forced to share more than he/she feels comfortable to reveal.
- Enlist the whole group in taking responsibility for making the experience work.
Extract from “For One Great Peace: An Interfaith Study Guide”, http://abrahamicfaithspeacemaking.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/For-One-Great-Peace-Study-Guide.pdf (page 6)
Published by Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative http://abrahamicfaithspeacemaking.com/
Guidelines For Arranging Group Visits to Houses of Worship
By JW Windland
Table of Contents
- Initiating contacts
- Developing relationships
- Making arrangements
- Preparing the visiting group
- Getting there
- During the visit
- About the author
- Permission to reprint this document
For the past 40 years, I have been visiting houses of worship in various North American cities. My visits to mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, temples, meditation centers and churches have proved to be a wonderful compliment to my many years of studying and teaching world religions.
One cannot really understand a faith tradition without entering into some kind of experience of that tradition. A house of worship site visit allows for just such an experience.
Inside the house of worship, one experiences the tastes, sounds, sights, smells of a faith tradition and its heritage. Here one encounters the tradition’s unique culture – its music, its prayer, its beliefs, its practices, its foods, its rituals, its people. One of the benefits of such visits is that not only does one learn more about another faith tradition but one also learns about oneself and about one’s own religious tradition.
Because visiting houses of worship was so meaningful and helpful to me, I decided it would be a good idea to share this experience with others. In 1994, I began organizing group visits to houses of worship in Toronto, Canada. Since then, I have organized literally hundreds of such tours.
In recent years it occurred to me that it might be helpful for others if I further shared my experience by developing a set of guidelines for arranging houses of worship site visits. I felt this could be helpful for people not just in North America but also in other parts of the world.
Because more and more regions of the world are becoming environments of multiculture and multifaith, there is now occurring a meeting of religions, an encounter of religions that is patently new to history. Religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue constitute the future of religion. The growing demand for visits to houses of worship is part of this planet-wide phenomenon of interreligious encounter.
It is my hope that the guidelines outlined below will be helpful to all who want to organize site visits to houses of worship. There are variety of audiences that show interest in site visits – high school classes, university classes, continuing education classes, congregations of any given faith tradition.
There are a number of schedule models for site visits. On a given day, the visiting group may wish to visit only one house of worship; on the other hand, it is possible for the group to visit three or four sites in one day. Through the Encounter World Religions Center in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, we sponsor an annual week-long world religions program in which the student group visits fifteen houses of worship.
Efforts to prepare the visitors prior to the site visit are essential. Preparation needs to occur on two levels:
- visitors should receive some general introductory information about the faith tradition they are visiting;
- visitors should receive an orientation to the etiquette of the particular house of worship – this will enable them, as guests, to be sensitive to the cultural and religious sensibilities of the given tradition.
2) Initiating contacts
- All religious traditions want to have their stories told, particularly when they see that you value their stories and their place in the community of faiths. Therefore, you can feel at ease in requesting a group visit to a house of worship because virtually every religious community is welcoming to visitors.
- Before booking a group visit, visit the facility to insure that it includes the kind of features, activities and community that you want to emphasize to your visiting group.
- Become familiar with the locations of proper entrances/exits, worship hall, washrooms, coat racks, shoe shelves and other places in the facility that your group will need. When a visiting group enters unfamiliar space, its comfort level is raised if it knows that the space is already familiar to you, the organizer.
- If you would like the visitors to observe a worship service, ritual or ceremony as part of their visit, you may want to attend such a service in advance to make sure it is appropriate for your time schedule, purposes and audience.
- Clarify with your host to what extent guests are free to participate in rituals, if at all. Such involvement can range from full participation (without restriction) to simple observation only.
- Avoid requesting group visits on holy days, festivals or “busy” days. For example, Sunday is not the best day for a group visit to a Christian facility, nor Friday to a mosque, nor Saturday to a synagogue, nor the festival of Diwali to a Hindu temple.
- Request the site visit at least a month in advance of the anticipated visitation date. It may take several days for the house of worship to inform the appropriate faith leaders who will speak to your group.
3) Developing relationships
- If possible, periodically attend services at the houses of worship on occasions other than the time of your group visits. This gesture serves to develop a relationship with the religious leaders and members of the chosen site; it also increases your levels of comfort, knowledge and cooperation with respect to the host community.
- Send greetings (cards or notes) to hosts, guides, lecturers, clergy or the general congregation of the house of worship on special holy days or festivals.
4) Making arrangements
- In your first effort to contact the house of worship, speak to the contact person directly – face-to-face, if at all possible. E-mail or over-the-phone conversations are risky unless you know personally the individual whom you are contacting. Person-to-person encounters are vital in building interfaith relationships. Once a relationship has been established over a period of time, phone/e-mail arrangements may be more reliable.
- Give a clear explanation to your host regarding your expectations. For example, during the visit, what would you, as the organizer, like to have happen and what would you like the host to do? Generally, I find the following four components helpful for a one-hour tour:
- A brief introduction to the faith tradition.
- A tour of the facility with an explanation of what the visitors are viewing (altars, images, objects, etc.) and what roles such altars/images/objects play in the worship setting.
- A personal statement/explanation of how being a member of the host tradition shapes one’s worldview. In other words, what does it mean to be Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc. and how does this particular faith orientation affect the way one lives one’s life?
- A period for questions from the audience.
- Clarify for the host the age/gender/grade/knowledge level of the visitors so the presentation can be tailored to the group’s needs.
- Confirm that the facilities are able to accommodate the size of your group and can meet the requirements of any special needs guests.
- If time is an issue, be clear on time requirements when booking the visit. As a general rule, approximately one hour is a comfortable length of time for a site visit.
- Clarify the length of the visit again when confirming the booking and again upon arrival at the site. Accordingly, the speaker will be clear on the length of her or his talk and thus allow time for a tour of the building and a question period.
- Ask about etiquette. For example, is a head covering required? If so, what is appropriate? Are head coverings provided in sufficient numbers or should guests bring their own? Should shoes be removed? If so, at what point in the building? Don’t be shy to ask about these and other etiquette issues.
- Ask if there are specific areas where the guests should sit or if men and women should sit in different areas. This consideration may or may not be an issue with a simple visit, but may be more important if the visit includes a ritual.
- Clarify as to what fees are expected, if any. Some facilities have a set fee. Others have no set fee. And still others are not allowed to accept money. Inquire about how the fee may be paid (e.g. If by cheque, payable to whom? Should fees be given to someone or placed in a donation box?)
- Confirm the visit two or three days before the date, reviewing schedule and expectations with your host.
- Acquire the name of the person to whom you spoke in making the arrangements as well as the name of the person who will meet you as host on the day of the visit.
- Etiquette and expectations vary from site to site. To avoid an uncomfortable situation, ask rather than assume.
5) Preparing the visiting group
- Inform visitors about issues of modesty and appropriate dress. Dress should be respectful. Remember, these are sacred spaces, not tourist attractions. Short pants and sleeveless shirts are not acceptable for either men or women. Short skirts are not acceptable for women. Modesty should be maintained when sitting on the floor (e.g. school girls should not wear school uniform kilts to sites where guests sit on the floor.)
- T-shirts should be free of advertisements or slogans that may be offensive or uncomfortable to others, even if they are not offensive to the wearer.
- Remind guests that modesty codes are more defined and formal in some cultures. For example, certain physical gestures such as handshakes or embraces are foreign to people of some cultural and religious backgrounds. In some cultures it is inappropriate for men and women to touch. Accordingly, it is better that guests allow members of the host site to take the initiative in terms of gestures such as handshakes or other forms of touching.
- To avoid embarrassment, guests should refrain from physical displays of affection or excessive friendliness toward each other (e.g. holding hands, leaning against one another, arms across one another’s shoulders, etc.) This guideline applies even for husbands and wives.
- With the visiting group, review etiquette issues that may be unique to a particular site visit, for example, the prohibition from sitting with one’s feet pointing toward the deities in a Hindu temple, member-only communion in some Christian churches, head coverings, shoes on/off, etc.) If you are unfamiliar with particular points of etiquette in a given house of worship, clarify these when booking the visit.
- Smoking is absolutely prohibited at all site visits. The trip should be considered a smoke-free day, similar to other settings with equivalent expectations (e.g. extended plane trips, etc.)
- Guests are encouraged to ask questions. Any question is acceptable so long as it is asked respectfully.
- Hosts at some sites may ask guests to participate in specific ways in the culture of the host faith group, for example, by learning how to pronounce specific words or phrases in an unfamiliar language, by engaging in meditation or other exercises, etc.) Alert guests to these possibilities and inform them of the expectation to participate. On the other hand, it should be emphasized that any individual visitor has the right to decline participation in any practice, meditation, ritual or exercise.
- Occasionally, a meal or snack may be provided by the house of worship. Because wasting the food of a host tradition is impolite, advise guests to take only what they are prepared to eat and make every effort to eat what they take. It is acceptable to decline food or snacks.
- It is very important that all individuals remain with the larger group as the tour moves through the building. Otherwise, there is a risk of individuals becoming separated from the group and thus delaying the tour.
- Because sitting on the floor may produce an inclination to lean back or recline, remind guests that in a house of worship such a casual posture may be seen as disrespectful.
- Ask the visitors to be respectful of and attentive to the host by not talking amongst themselves during the talk or presentation.
- Encourage guests to take a washroom break before departing for the house of worship.
- Above all, keep in mind that the primary intent of the site visit is that the guests enjoy a day of learning and experience.
6) Getting there
- A bus is by far the best mode of transportation for a site visit.
- Car pools are problematic but are sometimes necessary. In the case of carpooling, provide each driver (or designated navigator) with clear maps (drawn and written directions.) maps.google.com provides excellent maps.
- It is helpful if each car has at least one passenger with a cell phone – this is vital in case of emergencies or delays; the cell phone is also helpful if a vehicle takes a wrong turn or gets lost in traffic.
- Out of courtesy, phone the host of the site if you are going to be more than a few minutes late.
- If you are uncertain of the location of the house of worship, drive to the facility in advance of the visit in order to determine the best route; this preparatory research will alert you to the locale of the entrance and parking lots as well as to the presence of one-way streets or construction in the area. Familiarizing yourself with these logistics is particularly important when the visiting group is travelling by bus.
7) During the visit
- Encourage the visitors to enter the site with respect and quiet reverence.
- Be prepared, as the organizer, to ask questions during the presentation that move the discussion to topics that the class or group has reviewed previously or may have questions about. Accordingly, if the lecturer wanders off topic, you can gently and non-threateningly guide the discussion back on track by raising a question.
- Ask permission of the host before taking photos or making audio/video recordings. Ask if there are specific times or places when it is inappropriate to take photos. Sometimes, visitors are allowed to take photos that do not require a flash. Clarify all these issues in advance. Do not assume that you are permitted to take photos.
- Some traditions have a prohibition against eating in the house of worship (apart from sanctioned food as a part of a ritual). Chewing gum, candy, breath mints, even cough drops qualify as food. Visitors should dispose of such items before entering the house of worship.
- Instruct guests to turn off all cell phones, beepers, pagers, wristwatch alarms and other electronic devices that may sound during the visit.
- Earphones from iPods and other electronic devices should be removed.
- Inform the facility host if there are individuals in your group who are unable to sit on the floor. In such a case, a chair is quite appropriate and will be gladly provided.
- Encourage the members of your group to stand or sit close to the host so they can clearly see and hear.
- Although you should encourage guests to take a washroom break before departing for the house of worship, washrooms will still be needed by your group when you arrive. Upon arrival, point out the locale of the restrooms and provide an opportunity for washroom visits before the program begins. This discipline serves to avoid disruptions later in the program. You may want to invite use of the washroom as you leave the site to avoid making a washroom visit the first requirement at the next site visit.
- When visiting a facility that requires visitors to remove their shoes, keep in mind that shoes should be worn in the washroom. Some facilities may permit the wearing of one’s regular street shoes in the washroom; others may require the wearing of flip-flops or other sandal-type shoes which are provided and located outside the washroom doors. To avoid an awkward situation, clarify these issues with the host in advance of the visit.
- As organizer of the visit, you need to keep in mind that the tour is for the group’s benefit, not your own. Therefore, position yourself at the back of the group or at some other vantage point where you may unobtrusively monitor behaviour and the program so as to facilitate a pleasant experience for both host and guests.
- Make sure that the group remains together as a body as it moves throughout the site.
- Be vigilant about your time schedule. You may need to express politely appreciation for the host’s time and contribution and then respectfully explain that the visit must end, particularly if the group is expected at another site visit where another host is awaiting you.
- Once you have left the facility, it is helpful to provide a time and locale for the group to debrief and evaluate the experience. This process enables the members of the group to clarify questions, identify major learning points and discuss any uncomfortable issues raised by the visit.
- You may want to provide your group with an address or website of the house of worship so that individuals can visit again on their own or learn more about the tradition.
- At some point following the visit, have a brief conversation with the host to determine how future visits can be made even more mutually beneficial.
- Express your appreciation to the host. A phone call, a voicemail message, an e-mail message or note of thanks (signed by yourself or the entire group) directed to the host is always appreciated and is good preparation for the next visit.
9) About the author
JW Windland RIP was a comparative mythologist and founder of the Encounter World Religions Centre in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The Encounter Centre is an internationally recognized educational organization designated as a “Gift Of Service To The World” by the Parliament of World Religions. JW had more than 40 years of experience in the study, teaching and first-hand experience of world religions. In addition to his academic background in religious studies, JW regularly attended mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, churches and temples as a testimony to his appreciation of world religions. This background gave him a perspective that is unique and tangible. He had genuine friendships with the practitioners of these traditions, joined in their rituals and introduced thousands of people to the winnowed wisdom of diverse communities. JW was a specialist in interreligious dialogue and in creating comfort across religious and cultural borders. He lectured internationally to universities, churches, and service and professional organizations. JW brought a familiarity and a deep knowledge of the many religious traditions that make up the North American mosaic.
If you would like to learn more about the Encounter Center, here is the contact information:
10) Permission to reprint this document in print or electronic form
Scarboro Missions encourages the reproduction and use of this document for educational purposes for limited distribution. For permission to reproduce this document for commercial use or large-scale distribution, contact JW Windland at tel. 519-822-0099 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Published by Scarboro Missions (Toronto, Canada)
Copyright © JW Windland 2008
Scarboro Missions is grateful for the skilful efforts of JW Windland and his willingness to post this useful multifaith document on the Scarboro Missions website.
Nowadays multi-faith prayer services are becoming more common to mark significant shared religious or civil events e.g. to celebrate national feast days or to mourn for victims of natural disasters (flood, bushfire, earthquake) or of criminal violence (terrorism). They can be initiated either by religious leaders or by civil authorities in response to the felt needs of their respective communities/societies. These events raise many questions. Some are happy to participate with others in a very open and free way; others feel that their participation would give credence to “false religions”; different religions have different modes of worship, not all of which are compatible with others; prayer is normally addressed to a personal God, but this does not necessarily apply to some meditation practices; always there are sensitivities involved regarding these and other issues such as representation (whom to invite), participation, venue and content.
When Pope John Paul II invited the religious leaders of the world for the World Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi on 27 October 1986, they did not “pray together”, but rather “came together to pray” i.e. each went away and prayed according to their own tradition, but they all came together for speeches. Another model is the performance model i.e. “to pray in each other’s presence”.
Some basic principles for arranging, hosting and conducting a multi-faith prayer service are:
- as far as possible, all the participants should plan the service together, not the hosts plan and then inform others;
- there should be equal public participation of the representatives of the various religions so that none are excluded or feel slighted (which can make the service very long if there are many religions represented)
- there should be only one “ecumenical’ contribution from each religion i.e. not Catholic and Protestant, but one Christian voice; not Sunni and Shi’a, but one Muslim voice, and so on.
- choose an appropriate day and time e.g. observant Jews cannot attend during the Sabbath; Christians have Sunday obligations
- choose an appropriate venue e.g. some believers are offended by statues/crucifixes in Catholic churches; it may be good to use a civic venue; may be good to alternate/rotate venues
- choose sacred texts that are appropriate for the occasion e.g. inclusive rather than confessional, to which all can relate
- if reading scriptures from different religions, at least note that this practice may convey the impression that the various scriptures are of equal value (which is not the Catholic position);
- if there are religious chants/hymns, then they should not be of one tradition only, but representative of the several traditions participating (which can make the service very long if equal time is given to each tradition)
- sometimes it is good to have music only (again, playing item not necessarily specific to one religion)
- do not fill the entire service with words; always it is good to have some shared silence!
- often it is good to use elementary symbols – earth, water, fire, light – as these are common and profound
- often it is good to have a shared gesture e.g. lighting one or more candles together, exchanging a greeting of peace.
- when possible, be sure to provide hospitality (as it is a strong religious, biblical and cultural virtue), but be mindful of dietary obligations of the participants
Guidelines for Designing a Multifaith Prayer Service, by Paul McKenna:
Published with permission from Paul McKenna, 2015.
One Faith – Multifaith
A theological basis for multi-faith gatherings, Faith and Order Commission, Victorian Council of Churches, 2005:
Resources for Gatherings
Relations with Other Faiths, A Working Group of the Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly: http://assembly.uca.org.au/rof/religious-gatherings/resources
Guidelines for Multi-Faith Worship
Australian Consultation on Liturgy (ACOL), 1995.
Message of Hope: Prayers and Inspiration from the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, 2012: http://www.elijah-interfaith.org/index.php?id=messageofhope#c1511
Brown, Gavin. “Praying Together in the Dark: Theological Reflections on Shared Prayer within Interreligious Dialogue.” Australian EJournal of Theology 20, no. 1 (2013): 18-33.
Potter, Jean, and Marcus Braybrooke, eds. All in Good Faith: A Resource Book for Multi-Faith Prayer. Oxford: The World Congress of Faiths, 1997.
Troll, Christian W. “Can Christians and Muslims Pray Together?”. The Way 50, no. 1 (January 2011): 53-70.
Religious Feast Days
Religious Feast Days provide a great opportunity to build relations between believers from different religions e.g. Vesakh (Buddhist), Deepavali (Hindu), Mahavir Jayanti (Jain), Pesach (Jewish), Eid (Muslim), Prakash Divas (Sikh). Acknowledging others’ feast days makes those believers feel welcome, accepted and respected, such that they are often happy to reciprocate on other feast days.
Greetings may be offered in person-the best way-or by e-mail, by posting on social media, or by postal card. Nowadays the leaders of the Catholic and other churches (e.g. the PCID, national commissions, dioceses) and the international, national and state bodies of other religions – often issue messages on the occasion of religious feast days. It is good to share these official messages with believers from other religions.
The messages of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) are found here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/index.htm.
Since some feasts are on fixed dates while others follow lunar years or other calculations, here are some multi-religious calendars of the feast days of the various world religions:
- Religious Calendar: http://theinterfaithobserver.org/religious-calendar/
- When Is – Dates of Religious and Civil Holidays Around the World: http://www.when-is.com/
- Days of Religious Significance, Multicultural NSW: http://www.crc.nsw.gov.au/community_engagement
N.B. Some feasts begin at sunset the evening before and end at sunset of the following day.
World Interfaith Harmony Week
World Interfaith Harmony Week, the 1st – 7th February each year, is another opportunity to arrange or attend interfaith and multi-faith events: http://worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com/
Civic Feast Days
International and national civic days of celebration e.g. anniversaries of foundation, independence and commemorations of significant national leaders and events, also provide opportunities for believers from different religions to come together to demonstrate their shared citizenship and contribution to society.
- United Nations International Days: http://www.un.org/en/sections/observances/international-days/
- United Nations Women Watch Events Calendar: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/calendar/
- Global Dimension: http://globaldimension.org.uk/calendar/text/
- Holidays and Observances around the World: http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/
- Calendar of Cultural and Religious Dates, Australia: https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/settlement-and-multicultural-affairs/programs-policy/a-multicultural-australia/government-building-social-cohesion/calendar-of-cultural-and-religious-dates
The Dialogue Society is a registered charity, established in London in 1999, with the aim of advancing social cohesion by connecting communities, empowering people to engage and contributing to the development of ideas on dialogue and community building. Among their resources, the Community Dialogue Manuals provide extensive advice and supporting documents to help organizations to run a range of local projects to enhance community cohesion.
The manuals are available as pdfs from the website: http://www.dialoguesociety.org/publications/community.html
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation has produced a new educational resource on interreligious dialogue for school students: Essentials of Dialogue: Supporting the Next Generation, January 2016. It is divided into chapters for teaching dialogue and practising the skills of dialogue. Each chapter has theory, classroom activities and worksheets.
- Chapter One: What is Dialogue?
- Chapter Two: Skills of Dialogue
- Chapter Three: Identity & Respect
- Chapter Four: Influences
- Chapter Five: How to Facilitate
- Chapter Six: Videoconferences
- Chapter Seven: Blogging
- Chapter Eight: Reflection
It is imperative that we give students the tools to build societies that welcome diversity rather than fearing it. That encourage an open-minded approach to the other, rather than the cultivation of prejudice; that includes rather than excludes. We all know that we want to help students approach the diversity of the world in an open-minded way, but we want straightforward and simple classroom activities that can help us to deliver this – without disrupting our need to deliver the kinds of results that our curriculum, and our students’ parents, demand.
We have substantial experience developing resources for use in the classroom all over the world to address these specific issues. Essentials of Dialogue is one of these resources. It is an indispensable part of Face to Faith, introducing the core concept of respectful dialogue and is now available as a free resource to anyone looking to teach it.
Our commitment is to ensure that we provide teachers with straightforward easy to use resources that will have a genuine impact upon their students. We have taken the lessons that we have learned from working in countries around the world to inform these resources. We present these resources to help anyone who wants to give young people, quite literally, the essentials of dialogue.
The document is available from the Tony Blair Faith Foundation website in chapters: http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/projects/supporting-next-generation/supporting-next-generation-essentials-dialogue-0
The entire document is available for download as a pdf from: http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Essentials%20of%20Dialogue%20For%20Distribution.pdf
Scarboro Missions provides a wide variety of resources and guidelines for interreligious dialogue. See especially: