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Area Religious Leaders Hold Interfaith Conference

How Christians and Muslims can get along better will be expored at a two-day conference among area religious leaders this month.

Organizers of the upcoming Spirit One conference say it is an outgrowth of interfaith efforts started in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. The intent is to bring people of both faiths together and recognize that they are part of the same community.

“This is a voice of reason and moderation, and that voice is not always the loudest,” said Kareem Shabana, one of the organizers.

The conference is scheduled for Oct. 27-28 and will be held at the First Church of Christ in Farmington and at the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center in Avon. It is being funded with a $15,000 grant from the George and Beatrice James Baldwin Memorial Fund of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ.

“This is the only way to go,” said Jane Smith, a member of the First Church of Christ. “Increasing interfaith outreach matters crucially to society. We need to recognize that and learn to talk to one another.”

Khamis Abu-Hasaballah, president of the Muslim center, said the conference stems from collaboration with the First Church that goes back to when the center opened in a former Episcopal Church four years ago.

“First Church was very welcoming to us and when they came up with the idea for this conference we said, ‘Why not?’ This is the only way forward,” Abu-Hasaballah said.

Organizers said having an active Islamic presence in the area was key to making interfaith efforts possible. Edith McClure, a member of First Church, said she has taken her grandchildren to services at the Muslim center in Avon.

“They have grown from that experience to know that we are all companions,” said McClure said.

Workshops and other events during the conference will be split between First Church and the Muslim center.

Organizers said two prominent religious scholars are scheduled to speak. Mahan Mirza, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, will talk about shared values among Christians and Muslims at 7:15 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Muslim center. Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, will give an address called “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” at 9:45 a.m. on Oct. 28 at First Church.

Workshops on interfaith learning, women and spirituality, social justice and getting young people involved will held on Oct. 28. Chris George, director of the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services, will speak on Oct. 28 about refugee resettlement.

“My hope is that people leaving this feeling equipped to go into their communities and make interfaith connections,” said Susan Murtha, interim senior minister at First Church.

Smith said the conference is an outgrowth of the “Honest Conversations with Muslim Neighbors” series of presentations that got started in 2015. Those have been organized by the Connecticut Conference for Interreligious Understanding and more than 20 have been held around the state.

In the Farmington Valley, the Muslim center, along with churches and leaders of the Jewish community, recently started the Farmington Valley League of Light, which promotes interreligous understanding. The league recently held a vigil at the Avon Congregational Church in response to riots that followed a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August.

People who want to find out more about the conference can contact First Church at firstchurchfarmington@firstchurch1652.org.

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