Over the years I’ve heard a number of jokes that begin — “A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a… ” It’s an effective stem for a joke because it’s based on a negative stereotype that suggests it highly improbable that the three would voluntarily associate with one another.
Yet, in Springfield we’ve been proving for 40 years that those of diverse theological backgrounds do just that.
Four religious leaders within the Springfield community — the late Rev. Dr. Richard Maye and the Rev. Mark Watkins, Rev. Andy Templeman and Rabbi Barry Marks — had a vision. They saw a possibility for entering into dialogue based on their shared values and jointly tackling community issues.
Originally, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Unitarian clergy met over brownbag lunches once a month, as we still do. What they did not anticipate was the deep respect and friendships they and future members of the Greater Springfield Interfaith Association would develop over the years. Nor could they foresee a future that included as many other faiths as it does today.
This year we developed our first logo (About time!). It illustrates our belief that all faiths grow out of a spiritual sense of mystery and thus should be held with reverence and respect. The faith symbols are representative of those in Springfield and our membership — Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Islamic, Jewish, Native American, Sikh, Tao, Unitarian Universalist and Zoroastrian — all of which have participated in one way or another over the years.
Our monthly meetings have not been limited to chatting and chewing. We’ve used them as opportunities to educate ourselves about each other’s religious traditions, beliefs and practices and to learn about community issues and services. But we recognized early on that to be relevant, we needed to get out of our chairs and pulpits and into the larger community. We needed to literally practice what we preach.