Published on July 30th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff0
The business of religious inclusion
Pictured Riverplace In Downtown Greenville, SC
By Rabbi Marc Howard Wilson
Greenville is a business town first. Religious town second.
That is the mantra I was told when I first came to Greenville almost two decades ago when I was brimming with idealism. I was certain I could change philosophy. Greenville had historic ties to faith. Downtown’s churches were famously laid out in the shape of a cross.
As Main Street transformed to big-town stature, Greenville evolved into what theologian Harvey Cox called the “secular city” or communities of “faceless anonymity.” In more common terms, it means we don’t usually know our neighbors down the block or hall, certainly not enough to pop in to borrow a cup of sugar. We give a quick wave as we pull out in the morning, but not much else. The same is likely true at church. Who’s the family one pew over or at the communion rail? And, when I go to a new synagogue, I usually become transparent.
Aha! I had found my cause. Banish faceless anonymity. Get clergy talking to clergy, denominations to denominations, people being with each other, doing meaningful things together.
But, not so easy. The influential churches and organizations were uniformly unresponsive. So, an idealistic handful of people formed “Faith Communities United.” We talked a lot, but did nothing particularly meaningful, then fizzled. Now, there are a couple of lightly populated “interfaith dialogue” groups that suffer from a bad cold – not well enough to get out of bed, not sick enough to die.
Finally, years later, some of us exotics formulated the “Year of Altruism” largely out of frustration with our plan to defeat faceless anonymity. The idea captivated a significant chunk of the community. They were inspired by the vision of a “beloved community,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. , called it, and even took steps in that direction.
Then the Year of Altruism ended. We heard praise for our cheerleading a movement toward altruism, but expectedly, the cheers soon died down. But, some of us were still pumped up on building our “beloved community.’ This rabbi, now quite sobered, and some highly idealistic folks realized that we could not convey a commitment to “saving” an entire city on the cusp of faceless anonymity.
Then what? Could we dispel faceless anonymity by bridging gaps of faith and orientation, creating islands of refuge to pray, learn, fellowship, and serve compassionately? We would call it “MeetingPoint,” a place where we would share ideals and callings, bringing us to celebrate our sameness, not focus on our differences.
Yes, we’re new, but MeetingPoint is happening. We’re taking bite-sized chunks of altruism and using them to honor the values we share, by doing, not merely chatting.
This affects the business community in a lot of ways especially economic development. We often hear of “quality of life.” This hard to explain, but you know it when you see it revelation that a place is a good. That people like each other. That there is community spirit. But can you have that if people are divided on religious lines?
Perhaps we can create a MeetingPoint, a refuge from faceless anonymity and create that special quality of life.
Rabbi Marc Howard Wilson is the Founder of MeetingPoint, a United Interfaith Community, drawing together people of goodwill in prayer, study, fellowship and compassionate service.