St. Boniface Episcopal Church hosted the first of several gatherings planned by a new partnership, the Sarasota-Manatee Interfaith Partnership, Sunday, Jan. 29.
The goal is to promote understanding and good relationships among members of different faiths in the area.
With its foundation laid on the goal of preventing violent actions against people because of their religions — such as those that targeted Muslims immediately after the 9/11 attacks — the new partnership includes members of St. Boniface, First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, Church of the Trinity MCC, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Temple Sinai, Temple Beth Sholom, the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton, the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism and the Women’s Interfaith Network.
Open-house-style gatherings will be rotated among churches, synagogues and mosques, to give members of each faith the opportunity to demonstrate their values and ways of worship.
“We want everyone to be familiar with each other’s settings and styles,” said the Rev. Dean Taylor, interim rector of St. Boniface. “I hope we can achieve a level of respectful observance among the different groups, and I’d eventually like to see us work together to build personal relationships that go beyond discussions.”
The gathering Sunday began with a welcome session in the church’s sanctuary, followed by a short film and refreshments, before attendees were encouraged to take seats alongside people from faiths other than their own, to encourage thought-provoking discussion.
“We ultimately want to promote understanding and stand up against intolerance,” said the Rev. Dr. Jay Rock, retired coordinator for interfaith relations for the Presbyterian Church USA. “These gatherings will help us decide how to move forward together.”
The Rev. Clay Thomas, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said that although the partnership hasn’t solidified plans for the future, the improvement of relationships among people various faiths is well on its way.
“The leaders of these churches already have existing relationships, but we think it’s really important for that to exist between the members of the churches as well,” said Thomas. “What’s great is that we can all maintain our convictions and realize that we do have different beliefs, but we can still embrace those differences and work together.”