Some 20 foreign visitors have been selected for the Presbyterian Church USA’s Interfaith Listening Project, which will be held from September 23-October 7, 2004. The project, which ran since the 9-11 attack in 2001, aims to increase the Christian-Muslim dialogue and to promote better understanding and mutual respect among the two faith groups through face-to-face conversations.
“There was a lot of excitement in response to the first visits, and a desire to have more,” said the Rev. Jay T. Rock, who works for the Worldwide Ministries Division as coordinator for interfaith relations.
One Christian from an overseas partner of the PCUSA and one overseas Muslim will make the basic framework of the Christian-Muslim teams – 10 of which are scheduled to visit for the dialogues this September. These basic teams are expected to come from Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Niger, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa.
The teams will visit congregations, presbyteries, colleges and local communities across the country, sharing their experiences of the realities and challenges of maintaining Christian-Muslim relationships in their home countries.
“It’s just such a wonderful way to put a face on Christian-Muslim relations,” said Rock. “It’s a great model, in that it allows people to encounter two individuals who already have a relationship in a specific place, working on specific issues.”
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, in Beulah, MI, was a host in 2002 and would like to participate again this year.
“We’re doing it because we need to hear from other parts of the world, other faiths,” said the Rev. Thom Nelson, pastor of 300-member St. Andrews. “The vibrancy that we heard coming from those participants was a little bit startling to mainline Presbyterian folk, hearing the zeal and the hardships — and the joy in the midst of hardship — that both the Islamic and Christian folks shared.”
Rock said organizers hope to stir more interest among young people this year by emphasizing college visits and discussions with youth groups. “We feel it is really important for young adults to meet Muslims and Christians from other places and start to have this conversation,” he said.
As of now, however, the Interfaith Listening Project team is still developing the itineraries for the visitors. Host sites will most likely be chosen by early May.
“We may do fewer (stops) this time, in the interest of having those visits be longer so, that the conversations can be more in-depth,” Rock said. “So we may only get to 25 sites this time, or even 20.”
The program is co-sponsored by WMD and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, part of the Congregational Ministries Division.