Group pushes to strengthen interfaith bonds

Clergy planning series of meetings

One year after it emerged as a leader in the collective healing process that followed the Marathon bombings last April, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization is embarking on a campaign to strengthen links among local congregations.

The Rev. Burns Stanfield, president of the organization, began a meeting Sunday with a prayer of remembrance for the victims of the bombings. He recalled the importance of the city’s interfaith structure in the grieving progress.

“That fabric took a blow, but it was not ripped apart,” Stanfield said.

Interfaith leaders announced an initiative they said will fortify existing ties among member churches and temples across Greater Boston. About 60 organizers representing both clergy and laity attended the meeting Sunday in the basement of Roxbury Presbyterian Church.


The first phase of the project, dubbed the Congregational Organizing Initiative, calls for religious leaders to facilitate one-on-one meetings with members of their congregations. The interfaith organization hopes to complete 1,188 such meetings before the end of June.

Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, said the connections he made through the interfaith group were critical last spring when he sought to distance the local Muslim community from the Marathon bombing suspects, both of whom were adherents to Islam.

“Immediately I got on the phone with interfaith leaders and did a conference call,” Vali recalled. Colleagues offered both advice and support, he said.

Around the same time, local leaders organized an interfaith service in the South End, where President Obama offered the nation’s prayers for victims in Boston.

Vali said the congregational support that emerged after the Marathon bombings would not have been possible without meetings such as the one that occurred Sunday afternoon in Roxbury.

“This is where the trust gets built. We break bread together,” he said. “In times of conflict, it’s very hard to build relationships.”


Dr. Jeanette Callahan, cochairwoman for the first phase of the Congregational Organizing Initiative, said she hopes the one-on-one meetings encourage new people to seek interfaith leadership roles and to identify the problems most important to people of different faiths around Boston.

Callahan said the meetings are intended to foster conversation about broad social issues, not necessarily personal gripes or fears. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization has for years organized around subjects such as public housing and education, and it was a driving force behind health care reform in Massachusetts.

“GBIO exists for the sake of the congregations – we do things together that we can’t do on our own,” said Neil Hirsch, a rabbi at Temple Shalom in Newton.

The organizing initiative, Callahan said, will help the organization determine what political and social issues to take on next.

“We have not stepped back from the public scene and turned inward” for years, she said.

Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at zachary.sampson Follow him on Twitter: @ZackSampson.