“These types of gatherings help keep me from being discouraged.”  These were the words one pastor shared towards the end of our luncheon.  I resonated with his sentiment.  Though we at Religions for Peace USA are calling these meetings to help better support local faith leaders, I need those times together as much as anyone.  While engaged in work that can often feel isolating amongst continuous negative messaging, it becomes increasingly more important to be with others who are also striving to build a more open and welcoming community.  This is why, over the past two months, we have been holding Pastor Luncheons in several cities throughout the southeast.  We asked local faith leaders from Nashville, Knoxville, Louisville, and Asheville to join us for a conversation centered on interfaith engagement.  We want to know what is already happening, what is needed, and how we can help.

The purposes of the luncheons are twofold.  One, we want to continue to help bring together local leaders and advocates so as to build bridges between efforts.  We hope to connect people to a larger network and fuller movement.  Two, we are asking for input into our upcoming Southeast-wide Pastor Institute.  As we met one-on-one with local pastors from across denominations to learn how we at RFPUSA could be a resource for them, we heard similar asks: helpful curriculum, connections to other pastors involved in interfaith work, ideas on how to breach conversations with congregants, deeper connections to people in other traditions, and theological analysis.  In response, we planned these luncheons to begin what we hope to be continued dialogue.  Thus far the response to our gatherings has been very positive.  The desire for conversation is already present, we simply need to connect people to each other and provide spaces for visioning and movement-building.

We see the Pastor Institute not as a one-time program, but as an ongoing, intentional process that continues beyond the initial event.  We would like to ask each institute attendee to commit to a continued conversation with us and others in the room throughout the year.  Whether this be through more local luncheons or other platforms, that is for each group to decide.  As we hold these meetings we ask to hear the needs of each pastor in the room and how we can be most helpful.  We want to build on what is already taking place at the local level.  We understand that each congregation and each city is different, but that we can learn from one another and become stronger together.

“This type of work is mustard seed work,” said an Asheville pastor.  “We have to do it.  We have to do this with the resources we’ve been given.”  I agree.  Peacebuilding is often mustard seed work.  We don’t always see the results and sometimes our efforts seem small.  But we have to continue to do what we can.

Emily Baird-Chrisohon, Regional Organizer