More than sixty Presbyterians from a cross-section of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are gathered at Stony Point Center in New York this week to participate in a consultation on interfaith relations designed to chart a course forward for the PC(USA).
Sponsored by the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (GACEIR), the consultation is providing a space from September 19–21 for dialogue and brainstorming on the realities of the current interfaith terrain and how the denomination should respond.
The participants are primarily Presbyterian, but ecumenical and interfaith partners from other traditions also are on hand for the event, which includes plenary presentations and small group discussions.
“In light of the ever-changing interreligious landscape, Presbyterians must look at an approach that individuals and congregations can use in their day-to-day lives as they engage with others,” Krystin Granberg, GACEIR chair, said Thursday.
“The purpose of this consultation is to flesh out what participants have seen and experienced in terms of interfaith engagements, what improvements can be made, and what within the Presbyterian tradition can be drawn on for these engagements,” she said.
The GACEIR will submit a report to the 221st General Assembly (2014) based on information from the consultation, surveys, and other data it gathers.
“Interfaith relations are about people—not systems, not religions,” said Margaret “Peggy” Orr Thomas, former associate for interfaith relations for the PC(USA). She was part of a panel focusing on Presbyterian thought and history related to engaging people through mission, evangelism, and dialogue.
Presenters Thursday also included Shanta Premawardhana, president of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education; Heidi Hadsell, president and professor of social ethics of Hartford Seminary; and Wesley Ariarajah, professor of ecumenical theology at the Drew University School of Theology.
The central question we have on our moral plate is “the question of otherness,” said Hadsell, who was part of a panel focusing on the history, witness, and action of ecumenical engagement. Many are asking for help in guiding those they serve through this question, and “it is up to us to deal with those questions.”
The day concluded with a viewing of the film, Shelbyville, which explores immigrant integration and the interplay between race, religion, and identity through the story of a Bible Belt community.