Giving thanks for West Michigan’s interfaith community

Over the past year and half of working for the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, I have traveled to conferences and been introduced to interfaith programs on the East Coast, West Coast and everywhere in between. I’ve seen firsthand this growing interfaith movement, with more and more institutions adopting interfaith efforts all the time. However, there’s something unique about what’s happening in Grand Rapids – there’s something special we have here that I don’t know of any other city having.
We have the whole community behind our interfaith efforts. Not just some pockets of the community, but the interfaith conversation is engaging all sectors of the community. We’ve seen Mayor George Heartwell declare interfaith initiatives to be citywide efforts, the presidents of Calvin College, Calvin Seminary, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA all discuss their own “principled pluralism,” and we even see our local media’s refreshing openness to diverse perspectives.From the beginnings of interfaith in West Michigan, with Sylvia Kaufman coordinating the Jewish-Christian Dialogue in Muskegon in 1989, this has been a community-wide effort. Again in our 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding, all parts of the community came together to promote dialogue, understanding and respect. Clergy and lay people, religious and non-religious, art museums and public libraries, universities and high schools, service organizations and government offices, businesses and local media: all are part of a conversation ensuring our city is welcoming and accepting of people from any religious tradition. There is a unique spirit of collaboration in Grand Rapids.

By leaving our own silos and coming together to promote a greater good, we model the potential of what interfaith can look like on larger scales as well – a way to live as one community in unity with one another, celebrating not only our similarities but even our differences.

Grand Rapids is not perfect. But by building relationships among strangers through community-wide partnerships, we hold onto hope to become a place of ever-expanding inclusion and equity. And during this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for a community that has a rich history and exciting future of interfaith engagement. I am grateful for those who participate in interfaith conversations that aim to humanize one another in a world that is increasingly polarized and divided. I am grateful that a culture where interfaith cooperation is a social norm is becoming ever more possible because of places like Grand Rapids. Finally, I am grateful that I am not alone in promoting respect and understanding; I am doing it alongside an entire community.

If you want to celebrate this community with us, Grand Rapids is hosting its 15th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration this coming Monday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In this long-standing tradition, we share our diverse expressions of gratitude and peace, and explore how we can continue to grow as a local and global community. More information on this event and our other efforts can be found on We look forward to even more voices joining the conversation.

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