North American Interfaith Network (NAIN)

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 11 April 2016.

Phone: 202-277-4447
Email: conexus@iserv.net
Website: http://www.nain.org
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History

The North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) is a continent-wide coalition of interfaith organizations that work on local, regional, state, and/or national levels. The seeds for the network were planted in 1978-1979 when a small consortium of interfaith leaders attended the summer meetings of the National Association of Ecumenical Staff. In the course of casual conversation during the conference, these leaders realized they shared a desire to see interfaith groups across North America come together and exchange ideas. This interest was further encouraged by a 1980 survey of US Interfaith Councils that was developed by Bettina Gray and the Commission on Regional and Local Ecumenism of the National Council of Churches (CORLE). The survey identified approximately 35 interfaith groups in the U.S. organized around dialogue or service projects. Today, NAIN consists of 62 diverse member organizations, including the Arizona Interfaith Movement, the Church of Scientology Toronto, the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, the Interfaith Youth Core, and Horizon Interfaith Communication Media Council.[1] In 1983, representatives from the Temple of Understanding (TOU), a New York City-based interfaith organization, attended a meeting of international interfaith organizations in Ammerdown, England and were tasked with identifying and supporting North American interfaith efforts. From 1985-1987, TOU hosted meetings with interfaith leaders to discuss what a network of North American interfaith councils might look like. Four years later, TOU published the first directory of North American interfaith organizations. During that same time, interim co-chairs were selected and an interim executive committee formed. Together, they determined the structure and constitution of the organization that would soon become the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN). Members of the early planning team stressed the importance of providing a table where interfaith groups and religious leaders could build coalitions to learn from and support one another. Long-time NAIN member Judy Trautman explains that when NAIN began “interfaith hardly existed.” “It was a novel idea to weave together the threads of interfaith interest.”[2] Simultaneously, several members of the NAIN planning team were also involved in organizing efforts for a “North American Assisi,” an event inspired by Pope John Paul II’s 1986 interreligious gathering in Assisi, Italy. When these two streams of efforts merged, the result was an inaugural North American Interfaith Network gathering, then called the North American Assisi. The gathering took place in Wichita, Kansas in November of 1988 and brought together nearly 250 individuals representing 12 of the world’s major religions. By the time the next NAIN meeting was held two years later in Seattle, Washington, an interim executive committee had generated and approved a constitution. By October 1991 NAIN was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Goals

 The North American Interfaith Network exists:
  • for communication among and the mutual strengthening of interfaith organizations;
  • to affirm humanity’s diverse and historic spiritual resources and bring them to bear on contemporary global, national, regional and local issues;
  • to facilitate the work of interfaith organizations and provide networking possibilities; and
  • to provide a coalition model of cooperative interaction based on serving the needs and promoting the aspirations of member organizations, including local interfaith groups, interreligious bodies, single faith with Interfaith Offices, Academic, study centers and media bodies.

A Networking Focus

NAIN primarily acts as a network to support members in two ways: through the development of resources and the hosting of conferences. These conferences, called “Connects,” aim to facilitate networking and the sharing of best practices for making interfaith work. “Many interfaith organizations feel alone in their work, so NAIN provides a valuable resource for them to reach out to others doing the same work,” said Don Mayne, former NAIN Chair (2001-2004).[3] Each year NAINConnect is held in July or August at a location in the United States or Canada.[4] From 1988 to 1996, Connects were held every two years and then annually thereafter. Connects are coordinated by a planning committee comprised of individuals who are involved in a local NAIN member organization. Local volunteers who wish to have their city considered as a Connect site submit a proposal to the NAIN Board. Non-members are also invited and encouraged to attend Connects. Volunteers and representatives from local but non-member organizations are often sought out to broaden the discussion and spread the word about NAIN. Before the first Connect convened, NAIN members compiled and published a comprehensive directory of the interfaith organizations in North America.[5] In the mid-1990s, www.nain.org was established. As a networking organization, promoting communication between member organizations individuals, and associate members remains a principal focus.[6] In 2000, the organization launched NAINOnline, a subscription-based interactive community that included an online member database and regional chatrooms. Board members used the chatrooms for quarterly meetings and young adult scholars frequently participate in webinars to share best practices for interfaith. In 2014, NAIN created an online option for membership sign-up and a feature that also allows member organizations to electronically conduct polls and vote on issues. The members’ section, which includes tool kits for interfaith organizing, is currently under development. Since its early days, NAIN has published a newsletter called NAINews. In 2009, over 1,200 copies of NAINews were being distributed twice a year to member organizations. Archived editions of NAINews are available at www.nain.org. As of 2015, the newsletter is published sporadically with major news and summaries of recent blog posts and the NAIN blog gradually replacing it.[7] NAIN is also active on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

Enlarging the Circle

Themes and programming of NAINConnects reflect its host location and NAIN’s concerns of the time. For example, the theme for the 2014 Connect hosted in Detroit was entitled “Bridging Borders and Boundaries” and programming included panel discussions on topics like “From Hate to Hope” and “City on Edge: Leading the Fight Against Enmity.” In both instances, religious leaders discussed how local interfaith efforts were bringing people together “to build unity and overcome the enmity that all too often divides and disrupts” Detroit’s community.[8] In 2004, the annual meeting “Connecting Partners: Enlarging the Circle” was NAIN’s first joint initiative with other networking organizations, like the National Association of Ecumenical and Interreligious Staff (NAEIS), the ecumenical organization that was instrumental in NAIN’s founding. The 2004 event also featured NAIN’s first interfaith film festival and interfaith awards banquet. The 2010 NAINConnect was held in Salt Lake City and the 2012 NAINConnect took place in Atlanta. The 2015 NAINConnect was held in Regina, Saskatchewan and, according to one NAIN member, “reflected a vibrant interfaith outreach, sensitivity to indigenous peoples, and warm prairie hospitality.” The 2016 NAINConnect will feature the theme “sacred spaces” and will be held in Guadalajara, the first time in Mexico. In addition to partnering with other interreligious coalitions, NAIN actively works to enlarge its membership base through targeted outreach. This includes promoting young adult involvement in the organization, an initiative currently spearheaded by the Young Adult Committee. Since 1998 the Young Adult Committee has offered young adult participants (called “scholars”) between the ages of 18-35 partial scholarships to attend NAINConnects. One 2010 Young Adult Scholar reflected:
NAIN appeared to be very interested in—and seemed to feed off of—the enthusiasm and accomplishments of these younger scholars...This, in my estimation, represents a very promising outcome of the NAIN Conference. A stronger relationship between the old guard and the newer blood likely may give rise to a more energetic, involved, and active interfaith community.[9]
This sentiment was echoed by Trautman who notes: “it’s been encouraging to see the intergenerational aspect of the Connects—between the pioneers, who have a wealth of experience to offer, and the young adults who have new ideas about the trends of interfaith.”[10] The Young Adult Committee also plans and implements programming for young adult alumni. Its alumni base continues to grow each year and increased substantially when the Young Adult Scholarship fund was enlarged to guarantee at least ten recipients a year. Indeed, NAIN envisions a future that is dedicated to supporting young adult engagement in interfaith. Today, NAIN hires one to two interns a year and young adults are encouraged to join NAIN’s committees. By serving on committees together, the veterans of interfaith can help young adults enhance their skills in regards to communications, financial management and membership outreach. Former NAIN Board member, Jason Smith, reflects:
I think NAIN is unique in its willingness to appoint young adults as members of the board, even very early on in their careers. When I joined the board, I had only recently graduated from college and had only been working in the interfaith sector for one year, but they were willing to support my professional growth and nurture my interest in interfaith work, which was very generous of them and certainly furthered the trajectory of my career and enabled me to make a lot of personal connections that I would not have otherwise.[11]
Trautman, who has been involved in interfaith efforts locally in Toledo, Ohio, for over fifteen years, also notes the increased participation in NAIN from seminary students. Clergy, she recalls, have been underrepresented in NAIN membership so she finds it encouraging to see young people going into seminary with an “interfaith sense” and being taught about other faiths once they are there.[12] Overall, the success of the organization is ultimately dependent on the strength of the ties between member organizations and the level of engagement of its individual members. This is especially true as a completely volunteer-run organization whose annual conference planning, programs, and meetings are contingent upon the personal initiative and energy of its members. And yet, without paid staff or a central headquarters but with members committed to its vision, NAIN has continued to expand for more than a quarter of a century. [1] “NAIN NA - Members of the North American Interfaith Network.” Updated 6 August 2013. http://nain.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/NAIN-NA-Members-of-the-North-American-Interfaith-Network.pdf. Accessed April 2016. [2] Judy Trautman. Phone interview with author. May 15, 2015. [3] Don Mayne. Interview with Pluralism Project researcher. 2009. [4] “About Us,” North American Interfaith Network, accessed April 8, 2015, http://nain.org/about-us/. [5] NAIN no longer compiles and publishes a comprehensive directory of the interfaith organizations in North America. Instead they have a directory of NAIN member organization available on their website, http://nain.org/about-us/who-we-are/. [6] NAIN Associate Members, were formerly referred to as “Friends of NAIN.” This represents individuals who participate in NAIN without being officially tied to a member organization. [7] Email correspondence with Judy Trautman, NAIN Communications Chair, April 29, 2015. [8] “NAINConnect 2014 Report,” North American Interfaith Network, 2014, www.nain.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/NAINConnect14Report1.pdf. 4. [9] “Email Correspondence,” 2010, Pluralism Project Archives [10] Judy Trautman, NAIN Communications Chair. Phone Interview with Author. 15 May 2015. [11] Jason Smith. Email Correspondence with author. 18 April 2015. [12] Judy Trautman, NAIN Communications Chair. Phone Interview with Author. 15 May 2015.