Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 6 April 2007.Phone: 603-524-6213
Laconia, New Hampshire, is a town of 15,000 people in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire. This rural area is home to a wide array of Protestant churches, three Catholic churches, a Greek Orthodox community, a Jewish synagogue, and a smattering of Muslim and Buddhist families.
During the winter of 2002, Lois Plimpton, a retired schoolteacher who has lived in Laconia for over forty years, attended a conference to celebrate women in New England. She and the other twelve women she went with were so inspired by the interfaith breakfasts held at this conference that they “decided that the experience was too wonderful not to share our feelings.” (1)
A small group of women planned an interfaith breakfast that winter. In the beginning, the emphasis of the gatherings was primarily ecumenical—focused on the diversity within Christianity in the region. As word spread, the number of Jewish women increased and, recently, Buddhist and Muslim women have begun to attend. Fifty or sixty people attended the first breakfast and attendance has grown steadily since then. The February 2007 breakfast hosted just over one hundred women. (2)
Changing Names, Changing MissionsDuring the first few breakfasts, the group called themselves "Ecumenical Women's Breakfasts." As more Jewish women began to participate and, now, Muslim and Buddhist women, the organizers decided to change the name to reflect the expanding diversity. Today, these twice-a-year meetings are called "Interfaith Breakfasts."
Interfaith BreakfastsPlimpton reports that the goal of Interfaith Breakfasts is simple: “I think it's just getting together, understanding each other...and offering a guiding tool for women.” (3) Interfaith Breakfasts in Laconia are held twice a year—once in the winter and once in the fall. Each breakfast lasts between an hour and a half and two hours. While a different faith community hosts and plans each meeting, the format is similar each time. Women gather and eat breakfast, chatting with one another over a meal before the formal program begins. Sometimes the host community invites groups to talk about specific topics; other times, women are asked to share a comment from their informal discussions with the larger group. This “chit-chatting,” according to Plimpton, “is a big part” of what makes Interfaith Breakfasts meaningful to participants.
As women finish their meals, the host faith community introduces the interfaith gathering ritual of the morning and then a speaker discusses an aspect of the theme chosen for the day. Plimpton notes that each community is careful to use inclusive language when they use worship hymns or prayers.
The most recent breakfast, in February 2007, was organized by women from the First United Methodist Church. The theme was “Respect for the Earth.” Women opened the session with hymns and a prayer. A woman from Temple B’nai Israel told the story of “The Wedding Blessing.” (4) Patsy Tacker, the liaison to the New Hampshire Council of Churches' Faith and Environment Committee was the first speaker at this breakfast. She discussed respect for the earth as “one thing all religions have in common.” (5) A second speaker, Anne Walston, addressed efforts the Methodist church is making to raise money for impoverished people around the world. The breakfast closed with a prayer: “’May we take the tolerance and the love we have learned here to home places of worship.’” (6)
Previous themes have been “Hearts and Hands,” “Awakening the Spirit,” and “Religious Dance.” (7)
OrganizationThe planning and leadership for these Interfaith Breakfasts rotates among different faith communities in Laconia (including communities from smaller, surrounding towns). Each forms a committee, establishes a theme for the breakfast, hosts the event, and plans the activities. They meet in the days after the breakfast to evaluate what went well and what should be done differently next time.
Each community is given $100 with which to organize the breakfast. This money comes from a collection that is taken up at the end of each gathering.
Advertising for the breakfasts is done primarily through newsletters, bulletins, the local clergy association, and newspapers. More than those venues, though, interest in the group is spread through word of mouth; according to Plimpton: “we just advertise and people come.” (8) When asked if she planned to continue working with the Interfaith Breakfasts, Plimpton replied, "By all means!" (9) Organizers are considering adding a third breakfast in the summer.
ResponseThe response to the Interfaith Breakfasts has been quite positive. For Plimpton, the events are a wonderful chance to “compare thoughts” with women from different backgrounds. “It thrills me,” she reports, “to see more and more different ethnicities involved.” (10) Polly Towle, an attendee at the February interfaith breakfast, was inspired by the exchange of ideas. For her, these gatherings “’minimize the differences between our churches and enhance the similarities.’” (11)
Endnotes(1) Personal Email with Lois Plimpton. 11 March 2007.
(2) Personal Interview with Plimpton. 12 March 2007.
(3) Personal Interview with Plimpton. 12 March 2007.
(4) Guay, Victoria. "Women of Faith Gather to Share", The Citizen of Laconia. 25 February 2007
(7) Programs for these earlier breakfasts were received via Personal Email with Plimpton. 13 March 2007.
(8) Personal Interview with Plimpton. 12 March 2007.
(9) Personal Email with Plimpton. 11 March 2007.
(10) Personal Interview with Plimpton. 12 March 2007.