This was adapted from the original document, available upon request.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE INTERFAITH ASSOCIATION OF CENTRAL OHIO
Ranbir S. Sandhu, Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation, Dublin, Ohio 43017
Representatives of five faith traditions called their constituents and the public to an Interfaith Prayer Service prayer on November 19, 1985, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 125 E. Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio. The call for prayer was to focus attention on the summit meeting between Presidents Ronald Reagan of the USA and Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR. The prayer expressed the common longing that PEACE, FREEDOM, and HUMAN DIGNITY might be advanced at the summit. Some 300 persons attended. The faith traditions represented included Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islam, and Judaism. Appendix A contains a list of the representatives of the different faiths who participated in organizing the prayer service.
Persons who attended asked that some kind of continuing organization that would provide such opportunities on a regular basis and a forum for ongoing dialogue and cooperation between people from different backgrounds be formed. Accordingly, the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio was set up and its constitution and bylaws drawn up. They were reviewed by Attorney Richard B. Igo and approved on July 16, 1986. The mission statement of the Association forms Appendix B of this report. The constitution provided for nine standing committees being set up. A list of goals and objectives for the Education Committee, the Public Interface Committee, and the Spiritual Sharing Committee were drawn up in 1986. In 1994, the Association received approval to its tax-exempt status.
These were ambitious plans but for certain reasons a momentum failed to develop at that time. However, interfaith prayer services continued on an occasional basis including one held on 17 April 1986 at the Trinity Episcopal Church.
A World of Difference Campaign
A World of Difference Campaign organized by the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith came to Columbus in 1991. The Religion Committee of the AWOD Campaign had its first meeting on 26 February 1991 at the Agudas Achim Synagogue. Representatives of several religions met again on 4 March 1991. Appendix C lists the representatives of various faith traditions who showed an interest in the Campaign. A series of meetings of the Religion Committee followed. Membership of the Committee is listed in Appendix D. Several interfaith visitations were held. A number of projects were initiated including preparation of a booklet describing the essential features of various faiths, encouraging individual congregations to invite others to their special events, possible use of thanksgiving as a common holiday celebrated by most faith groups, and exchanging potluck meals with exposure to foods and customs peculiar to each group. The Committee met at places of worship of various faiths so that all members would get acquainted with each faith group. The Committee organized a potluck dinner on 8 December 1991 to invite members of the public from various faiths in order to develop ideas for furthering interfaith understanding and tolerance and reducing prejudice in society. Over 70 persons from seven faiths attended. It was recommended that the various faith groups should jointly observe the World Religion Day, the U.N. Festival, and expand interfaith prayer activities as well as family to family interaction between members of different groups. The Religion Committee organized an Interfaith Lunch on 28 June 1992 and a Family Picnic on 4 October 1992 and, in cooperation with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, organized a “Book Project” at which various member faith groups donated books to the Library. The Interfaith Association actively participated in all these activities. An Interfaith Concert was held on 15 November 1992. All these events were well attended and highly successful in their mission. The accomplishments of the AWOD Religion Committee were recognized on 7 October 1993 when it received the Mayor’s Award for Voluntary Service. The AWOD Religion Committee held its last meeting on 5 December 1992. The activities of AWOD Religion Committee, however, set the stage for continuing work on similar lines by the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio.
Growth of the Interfaith Association
The Interfaith Association had started in 1985. At first, there were only five faith groups represented on it. Representatives of the Sikh faith and the Baha’i faith working with the AWOD Religion Committee were invited to attend the eighth meeting of the Association on 9 September 1991. These two faiths were invited to join and their inclusion was approved at the 13 January 1992 meeting of the Interfaith Council of Central Ohio. The Interfaith Council consists of three representatives from each member faith. At the May 1992 quarterly meeting of the Council it was noted that the Council met only four times a year and there were many issues which required quick decision and could not wait till the next meeting of the Council. It was decided that the Council should have an Executive Committee consisting of the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary and the Treasurer. This Committee was expected to meet once a month or as needed to attend to urgent business. It was to report to the next meeting of the Council on all its activities and to take no action binding the Council in any manner. Formation of this Committee was approved at the 3 August 1992 meeting which also decided that individuals be permitted to join the Interfaith Association as members on payment of an annual membership fee. During 1993 it was felt that with increase in its membership as well as in the range of its activities, the Association needed to revisit its Constitution and by-laws to propose revisions which would enable the Association to better fulfill its mission.
The Interfaith Association of Central Ohio participated actively in the activities planned by AWOD for 1992. Upon the AWOD Religion Committee’s being abolished, the work of that Committee was incorporated into the plans of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio. The Council participated in as well as organized several functions dedicated to the reduction of prejudice, promotion of peace and understanding, and defense of human rights of all. The Council condemned the violence in Bosnia-Herzegovnia at its meeting on 3 August 1992. On 10 December 1992, the Association joined the vigil, organized by Amnesty International, in front of the State House in Columbus, Ohio. On 21 February 1993, the Interfaith Council joined the march organized by ‘Women who oppose Ethnic Cleansing, Rape Camps, and the Holocaust in Bosnia’ to protest the atrocities committed in Bosnia against civilian population. The Council also co-sponsored the visit of Gaden Shatse Tibetan Monks in March/April 1993.
The Council met at the Broad Street United Methodist Church for a ‘potluck’ dinner meeting on 1 November 1993. In February 1996, the Council noted the problem that a Sikh doctor had with the law because of his wearing his kirpaan as required by his faith. The Council extended its sympathy and support to the Sikh community. To keep the membership informed, a Newsletter was started. The first issue came out in February 1994. Since then, further issues were mailed in September 1995 and April 1996. Much of the work of the Council is carried on by three of its standing committees.
The Education Committee has organized lectures by representatives of different member faiths to provide an opportunity for all members to learn about each other. The program started with a presentation about the Sikh faith on 21 October 1991 and was followed by others. In 1993, the Committee undertook sale of Interfaith Calendars published by the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Chicago as a means of educating the public about the essentials of various faiths. This project has been repeated every year since then and the Committee was able to sell nearly 180 calendars for 1997. The Committee has organized several panel discussions. These include:
- A public forum on ‘Concept of God’ at the Upper Arlington Main Library on 26 March 1994.
- A public forum on ‘Women in Religion’ at Covenant Presbyterian Church on 1 May 1994.
- A public forum on ‘What Happens After Death’ at the Upper Arlington Main Library on 1 October 1995.
- A panel discussion on ‘Our Environment: A Multi-faith Perspective Celebrating Earth Day’ at Franklin Park Conservatory, Columbus, on 20 April 1996.
- A public forum on ‘The God of Abraham: Four Perspectives on a Common Heritage; Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Baha’i’ at Mount Carmel College of Nursing, Columbus, on 23 March 1997.
The Committee has established a Video Library and makes available copies of video recordings of the following events organized by the Interfaith Association and by AWOD Religion Committee:
- November 1992 Interfaith Concert: A World of Difference in Prayer & Song, organized by AWOD Religion Committee.
- 1993 Interfaith Concert: Paths of Celebration: 11/21/93
- What Happens After Death: A Public Forum: 10/1/95
- Our Environment: A Multi-faith Perspective: 4/20/96
- 1996 Main Event: Dr. Frank Hale- Race, Diversity & the American Dilemma: 3/24/96.
The Education Committee has also arranged for the Interfaith Association’s participation in the U.N. Festival every year since 1992 in collaboration with Interfaith Women’s Association. Currently, it is working on putting together a brochure that would include a brief description of each faith as also a pamphlet which will be somewhat more detailed.
The Public Interface Committee arranged a dinner at the residence of Martha Donaldson on 6 February 1994. Following up on the 1992 Interfaith Lunch organized by AWOD Religion Committee, ‘Main Event’ was held on 10 October 1993. Mr. James O’Dea, Director, Amnesty International, was the invited Speaker. For the Main Event on 26 March 1995, Mr. Mark Real, Director, Children’s Defense Fund was the invited Speaker. The 1996 Main Event was held on 24 March with Dr. Frank W. Hale Jr. as the invited Speaker. The Speaker at the 1997 Main Event on 20 April was Mr. Alfred Tibor, a world-renowned sculptor and a survivor of the Nazi Forced Labor Battalions.
On 19 January 1992, the Spiritual Sharing Committee joined the Local Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is of Columbus in celebrating the World Religion Day. Seven different faith groups joined in an afternoon of prayer and song. An interfaith concert was held on 21 November 1993 at the Mershon Theater. The Committee organized a picnic on 18 September 1994 that was attended by 29 adults and 15 children. To promote understanding, during 1994, the Committee arranged four inter-religious dialogue groups of families which met at each other’s homes. The visitations started 20 November 1994. The Council again joined the Baha’i community at World Religion Day on 15 January 1995. An Interfaith potluck was arranged on 12 February 1995 and prayer visits to the Islamic Center on 26 March 1995 and to the First Community Church on 30 April 1995.