Celebrating Differences: Group Draws Inspiration From Diversity

March 13, 2009

Author: Marta Hepler Drahos

Source: Traverse City Record-Eagle


Bonnie Smith came from a Catholic background and wanted to be a nun until she discovered boys.

Now she's a deacon in the Episcopal church -- and a founding member of a new area faith diversity council called Area Council on Religious Diversity, or ACORD. The group also includes representatives of the Unitarian Universalist, Wicca and Quaker faiths and hopes to add others from the community's many religions, faith traditions and spiritual practices.

"There are 6 billion people in the world and 41/2 billion of them subscribe to only three or four religions," said ACORD member Harry Dorman, an ordained Wiccan priest and minister affiliated with Circle Sanctuary of Barneveld, Wis. "Yet around the globe there are dozens and dozens of spiritual traditions."

Dorman said one of the council's goals is to build better communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation among those traditions.

"At least from the perspective of Wicca, there's a strong belief that there is a central place of spirit where all religions meet. They're just a different path to the same light," he said.

Smith, a deacon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Elk Rapids, said she joined the council not just to help foster respect among the traditions but to celebrate their differences.

"There really wasn't a group in the area that was there to help focus people on not only a tolerance but finding a joy in diversity," she said. "You can tolerate something and yet not learn anything from it or find a way of working together, being enlarged, find joy and growth in it."

Past and recent interfaith efforts include a Grand Traverse Ministerial Association of area clergy, now dissolved, and an informal interfaith dialogue group of Jews, Christians and Muslims that meets at Horizon Books. But traditionally such groups haven't encompassed other faith traditions and spiritual practices like Buddhism, Native American faith and Wicca, a nature-based minority religion Dorman said is "under the radar of mainstream faiths in America."

"There's always been a built-in mistrust, misunderstanding, lack of communication between faith traditions," he said. "Most keep within themselves and take very little time to reach out and understand other faith traditions. If there's not a dialogue and different faiths don't understand each other, we're missing a big opportunity to work together in those areas where we're comfortable."

Besides encouraging greater appreciation of different faith traditions, the council will work in support of human rights and act as a voice for education and illumination concerning local, national and "planetary" religion-related issues, Dorman said.

See also: Interfaith