Central to Hartford Seminary’s work in interfaith Abrahamic dialogue and understanding is its Building Abrahamic Partnerships (BAP) program. Based on its strengths as an interfaith, dialogical school of practical theology, Hartford Seminary designed this program, directed by Professor Yehezkel Landau, Associate Professor of Interfaith Relations and holder of the Abrahamic Partnerships Chair, to be a resource for Jews, Christians and Muslims, who seek a solid foundation in interfaith ministry. Other Hartford Seminary faculty, along with adjunct facilitators, make up the rest of the interfaith and gender-balanced teaching team for BAP. It is an eight-day intensive immersion course in interfaith dialogue and understanding, which is offered once a year, usually in June. This year’s session was completed June 30, 2013.
Hartford Seminary has offered the Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program 15 times over the past nine years. Participants learn about the tenets and practices of the three Abrahamic faiths, study texts from their respective scriptures together, attend worship at a mosque, synagogue and church and acquire pastoral skills useful in interfaith ministry.
Combining the academic and the experiential, the course includes ample time for dialogue among participants. This year the program included 20 students, with some coming from as far away as Singapore to acquire new interfaith dialogue skills. One Jewish Theological Seminary student took part this year; last year there were three; another Jewish participant is a first-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, while yet another is a rabbi who is a leading activist and writer in the Jewish environmental movement. Christians, Jews and Muslims were represented in nearly equal numbers, so that multifaith, small-group interactions were possible.
In closing statements, students reflected on their week-long experience, commenting on how they would apply this experience to their home constituencies. As one student from Singapore noted, “I am here to be a peacemaker, and I will take that experience back to my homeland.”Another Muslim student from Singapore commented that he had acquired friends from other faith traditions during the week. Another student remarked that his first impression of America was interfaith and that he was very touched by the sincerity of this interfaith group.
All the students generally confirmed that everything that they had experienced would have an effect on their future interfaith interactions. One Christian participant revealed that she had already been asked by her church to bring what she had learned back to her congregation to lead interfaith workshops.
The group tackled some challenging issues in the closing session. Some of the Jewish students participating spoke about the difficulty of choosing appropriate language in interfaith settings,since some words can be easily misunderstood or have toxic connotations for others. Thoughtful discussion developed around how to provide a respectful context for using terms that could be toxic or hurtful to an audience. Asking for forgiveness before speaking in potentially difficult situations seemed to be generally recommended for starting brave conversations, particularly when participants are unsure of potential language triggers.
As a final exercise, the program participants formed three multi-faith groups to create a “sacred spaces” out of Legos, spaces that would reflect their respect for each tradition while using dialogue to arrive at a consensus. Each of the hree very different spaces created was emblematic of the groups’ newly honed dialogical skills. (see below)