As Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman prepares for the next chapter of his life after 13 years in Calgary, he’s encouraged to see that interfaith leadership relations are stronger than he’s ever known them to be. The next great challenge is bringing that momentum to the faith communities as a whole, he says.
New Scoop, which has been illuminating stories of Calgary’s faith communities, invites Rabbi Howard to share his reflections in a panel discussion on faith in the city on Monday, June 22.
“With Rabbi Howard leaving it felt like an appropriate transition point to offer people the opportunity to gather and reflect on what has transpired over the last number of years and what might transpire, taking advantage of his perspective as a significant player around interfaith and faith activity,” says New Scoop founder Sarah Arthurs.
Calgary a Positive City for Interfaith Work
A number of promising initiatives have cropped up over the last few years to strengthen Calgary’s interfaith relations. The Metro Alliance for the Common Good, the Interfaith Council of Calgary, the Calgary Council of Christians and Jews, the Jewish Muslim Dialogues and Abraham’s Tent are all dedicated to promoting greater understanding and involvement in the community.
All rise largely through the strong receptivity of the clergy of various faiths to the message of interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Howard says.
Interfaith work has also been nurtured by an ethos that emanates from the broader community, he proposes. Calgary is a relatively young city and has this “western can-do kind of spirit.”
“There are no great divisions established by historical circumstances and also people are very open and inclusive by nature here,” he says. “So we have a very positive environment for building interfaith relationships.”
More Opportunity to ‘Love Our Neighbour’
Looking ahead, Rabbi Howard sees great opportunity to enliven interfaith work by bringing the momentum created by leaders to congregants and lay people.
“To truly advance the cause of interfaith relationships it’s up to our leaders to speak openly and honestly about our differences and similarities and encourage our members to really explore other faiths – and to explore one’s own traditions in light of their exposure to other faiths,” he says.
Rabbi Howard recognizes the challenges related to trust, especially between faith communities that have or are experiencing conflict. But trust can grow over time as people engage with those of other religions, honestly exploring together their religious as well as cultural and political issues.
To truly advance the cause of interfaith relationships it’s up to our leaders to speak openly and honestly about our differences and similarities and encourage our members to really explore other faiths – and to explore one’s own traditions in light of their exposure to other faiths. Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman
In finding a way to work through interfaith challenges, there is also value in bringing into conversation the subject of where a faith community derives its authority – from the divine, religious texts or the religious movement itself, for instance – as a key way to deal with the deep issues of interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Howard says.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity now is for Calgary’s faith communities to step more fully into contributing to their city’s thriving.
“We have many issues in our city especially with respect to poverty, to income inequality, to housing, to access of city services,” Rabbi Howard says.
“These issues can be addressed by religious leaders and by religious people because we are motivated by our religious texts and by the wisdom we’ve received over the generations . . . and we have real estate, we have buildings where we can offer our resources to the communities.”
One effort underway in Calgary looks to turn churches into community hubs, so that the isolated and those in need can find resources and volunteers to assist them in their lives.
“Whether our authority is centred around the divine or from a more humanist perspective, we understand that our religious obligation, at the baseline, is to love our neighbour as ourselves and that in addressing issues of social justice and poverty we are reaching out to our neighbours in the most fundamental hands-on way we can,” Rabbi Howard says.
The June 22 panel discussion will include colleagues from both the Christian and Muslim faith communities, as well as Rabbi Howard. It also intends to be participatory, with attendees sharing their reflections.
Sarah hopes the event begins to spark clearer excitement about the gift that faith communities bring to Calgary.
She’s also hoping the event leads to deeper or renewed connections between people from their respective faith communities, opening the way to new and stronger collaborative work.
How New Scoop can continue to be part of the interfaith work going forward is also hoped to be a subject of the conversation.
The event: Faith in the City: Reflections on an Interfaith Rabbionate. A farewell conversation with Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman.
When: June 22, 7-9 p.m.
Where: Temple B’nai Tikvah, 900 47 Ave SW
Where: Join Rabbi Howard and colleagues: Dave Holmes, Anna Greenwood-Lee, Ryan Andersen and others, as they discuss how communities of faith have nurtured and can support the city of Calgary.
How: Register at Eventbrite
For more information: contact Sarah Arthurs at sarah(at)newscoopyyc.coop