Building an Interfaith Group

Drew Hoopes was becoming increasingly aware of the negativity and division he saw in the news and on social media. “That is not an accurate representation of our world. There are muted voices who want to build up, not tear down and divide,” says Hoopes. A public relations specialist affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Hoopes moved to the Woodbury area three years ago. Through his work at 3M, he met many individuals more diverse than the general population. He saw a need and began meeting with other faith leaders in the Woodbury community to see if there was interest in building a Woodbury interfaith council that would:

  1. Promote shared values such as unity, brotherhood and sisterhood, tolerance, and goodwill;
  2. Build bridges of understanding for people of faith in the community;
  3. Acknowledge and foster the role that faith plays in the lives of families and individuals within the community;
  4. Provide opportunity for coordinated service activities in the community across congregations.

“I have learned in conversations with my counterparts from other faith traditions that many in our community are feeling increased anxiety about some of the social issues around race, something we can be aware of as we interact with our friends of other faiths and look to further bonds of friendship and love in the community,” Hoopes said.

At the first Woodbury Interfaith Council Meeting in March via Zoom, Carolyn Winslow, Deaconess from the Grove Methodist Church, Charles Nyberg, lay member of King of Kings Lutheran Church, and Hoopes spent most of the time getting to know one another. They agreed to explore the idea of forming a council and shared some initial ideas. In preparation for that meeting, Hoopes had connected with Lee Burdge who sits on the board of the Minnesota Multifaith Network (MnMN). Burge spent some time helping Hoopes understand more about MnMN. In addition, he connected Hoopes with Tom Duke, retired Lutheran pastor, previous coordinator for the Saint Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN), former executive director for the Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, and current member of MnMN’s operations team. In his operations team role, he helps local interfaith councils get off the ground.

With the hectic pace of clergy work, Duke advised that councils engage lay and community leadership with support and participation by clergy as their schedules permit. He also stressed the importance of keeping the council loose, of not getting too bogged down in formalities at first. He warned that sometimes members think efficiency is key and are tempted to be overly task oriented.

Hoopes emphasizes the importance of personal stories. “I met an Ethiopian woman who told me that in the eight years her family had been here, they had only been invited to a neighboring home once. Her story illustrates the need to work to build relations in the community between those of different backgrounds.”

He aspires to plan events like one held by other interfaith leaders prior to the pandemic. Meeting with the participants, he learned of an Islamic man who shared changes in perception that occurred as a result of a council picnic where over 300 participants came, offering dishes from their cultures. “It was a non-confrontational way of bringing people together to enjoy their love of food, of being outside in nature, being at leisure together,” said Hoopes. “We tend to get isolated in the social circles we run around with. Casual social interactions allow us to discover that we are not so different from one another.”

By Linda Shapiro
Linda Shapiro is a former choreographer who co-founded New Dance Ensemble. She is currently a freelance writer with published articles, reviews, and essays on dance, architecture, design, and other subjects for numerous publications in Minnesota and New York City. She is also a published fiction writer. Mary Pickard (member of MnMN’s operations team) ignited Linda’s interest in MnMN. We are grateful Linda is able to volunteer her time to gather and record these important stories.

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Want to Build an Interfaith Group?
MnMN invites inquiries about interfaith group formation. We can connect, advise and support others interested in doing this type of work. Contact Tom Duke at [email protected].

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