Frequently Asked Questions
Who benefits from the Interfaith Bridges™ experience?
Although we think that everyone can benefit from participating in an Interfaith Bridges program, our experience shows that people appreciate the program the most when they have an open mind and are interested in learning about people from other faith communities. The goal of Interfaith Bridges is to create trust relationships, and those people who enjoy the program the most enjoy meeting new people and welcoming people into community. Participants must be open to sharing their religious beliefs and practices, without attempting to convert others. They must be able to listen to others without judging them. They must also commit to maintaining the confidentiality of the Interfaith Bridges discussions. Facilitators outline rules of the road governing interfaith dialogue at the beginning of each program and ask the participants to affirm these norms for dialogue. Sponsoring faith communities often see more engagement by members who participate in our program.
How are participants for the Interfaith Bridges program chosen to ensure the number of participants and mix of faith traditions meet program requirements?
Facilitators will be working in each faith community to recruit participants. Each person who is interested in participating in the Interfaith Bridges program completes an Expression of Interest form, which asks about their faith tradition and availability to attend all six sessions. The facilitators will choose participants who can attend all six sessions, while achieving an approximately equal number of participants from each faith community. If there are too many interested people, their names can be added to a waiting list, or they may be deferred to a future Interfaith Bridges program.
What if some interested people who fill out our Expression Of Interest forms cannot commit to attend every session?
Each Interfaith Bridges session builds on the one before, and the program is designed to build community and introduce each participant to different perspectives on the represented faiths. If a participant has an personal emergency, their absence is understandable, if regrettable. It is important for facilitators recruiting participants to convey an expectation that participants are making a commitment to attend every session, and to give early notice of any unavoidable absence, so that the facilitators can plan accordingly. Absences will require the facilitators to make adjustments in the small groups for the session, to balance the representations of genders and faiths.
If a prospective participant knows ahead of time that attendance at one or more of the sessions won't be possible, the facilitators will want to take this into account in forming the entire group, evaluating the ways in which the participant in question enhances group diversity and cohesion, while taking into account the possible disruption resulting from the expected absence. In this regard, the session with the least impact on group formation is Session 6, of course; in contrast, both Session 1 and Session 3 are very important to group formation. Facilitators will need to weigh the benefits and the costs of including the prospective participant, including the relationships the participant has with other prospective participants, and the impact of the absence on group formation.
Further, if a prospective participant will miss more than one session, they might be better off deferring to a later program to minimize disruption to the program. For this reason, we suggest that participants complete the Expression of Interest form, and the facilitators meet and agree together on the final list of participants.
What if we have some participants who don’t identify strongly with any of the represented faiths? Is it okay to include atheists, or those with cultural, but not religious affinity with one or another of the faiths?
It is possible, and maybe even likely, that some participants may not identify as strongly with their faith identity as their faith community affiliation might suggest - this is particularly true where recruitment reaches out to spouses, neighbors, or other people recruited from outside the faith community. These participants may be very interested in learning about other faiths, but will not able to share as deeply about their own faith traditions or experiences. We have had Wiccans, Buddhists, and atheists as successful participants in our groups, so it is good to keep an open midn about these less doctrinally committed particpants! Keep in mind that these folks may be important to another participant (a spouse, a friend, a neighbor). Beyond the awkwardness of disinviting interested participants, it wouldn’t be projecting an inclusive community! We want everyone to feel welcome! Note too that you may not even find out about someone’s faith identity being less definitive until after the program is started.
Also, we understand that there is a broad range of knowledge of and adherence to faith traditions in every faith! The good news is that including these folks with less well formed faith traditions in an Interfaith Bridges program is usually not a problem, and often it is even beneficial because these seekers ask wonderful questions! The goal is to have sufficient participants of each faith with strong faith identities to offer their perspectives to the groups. If too many participants are ambivalent about their faith and/or unable to share their perspective on common traditions, the program won’t work very well. Thus, it is worth keeping an eye on the makeup of the faith community representatives during the recruitment process, and to use the EOI process to monitor whether there is good representation from each faith community.
Is it important that the participants understand their own religion well?
Nope! We provide introductory videos each week to give some grounding on each of the represented religions, but the discussion groups are all about the participants’ own experience. This is not an educational program with prescribed content and tests, but rather an opportunity to share about one’s faith experiences with others who are also going to share about theirs, on topics that are central to our collective human experience. No judgment, just sharing! And when do we have any chance in our secular society to talk about our own faith, let alone hear about someone else’s? Participants enjoy this immensely! Keep in mind that no one is the sole spokesperson for their faith. Rather, there are always other representatives of the same faith in the group, and the facilitators are guiding the discussions to make sure everyone has time to share about their own experience.
Is this a comparative religion program?
No, this is a relationship building program. The videos used in Interfaith Bridges present the basics of each religion, so that everyone has at least the same level of knowledge about each other’s faiths as participants engage in dialogue. The program is designed to allow the participants to become familiar with people of other faiths, and with their beliefs and practices, through facilitated discussions. The Interfaith Bridges program is focused on creating friendships with “the other.” Simply put, our goal is to build relationships, or bridges, among people of different faiths.
Is this a program just for couples, or maybe just for interfaith couples?
No, this is a program for everyone! The participants who learn the most are those with the least exposure to their other faith counterparts! Spouses enjoy taking the program together, but we’ve had one spouse attend, rave about the program, and the other spouse turns up in a later program to check it out! Singles have a great time, too. In fact, we highly recommend that spouses are separated into different discussion groups as much as possible, so that singles are on an even playing field. Interfaith Bridges is certainly not group therapy for interfaith couples! The program is enriched by diversity—our participants have included millennials, 80+ year olds, people in wheel chairs, two different folks who were speech impaired (communicating in that case through a spouse!) and folks from religions other than the sponsoring faiths (atheists, Wiccans, Buddhists!). The community forms and trust is built in these wonderful discussion groups.
What if we don’t have 24 people sign up? Is there a minimum number of participants to make a viable program? And what if one faith community winds up with more participants than the other(s)?
Our programs are designed for both small group and larger group discussions. Twenty-four participants allow for four groups of six, or two groups of 12, and these are also divisible by two for bi-faith, or three for tri-faith. When we include either four or six facilitators, it becomes a group of 28 or 30. This is a large enough group so that every participant feels like they are part of something important and bigger than themselves, but small enough to allow each participant to have some meaningful interactions over six sessions with everyone else. That said, the program is viable with fewer participants - we think the minimum number of participants to achieve the goals of the program is probably 18—nine each for a bi-faith program, or six each for a tri-faith program.
We recommend strongly that the participants from the respective faiths be balanced as closely as possible. We have run programs in which one faith had one or two more representatives than the other. Any more imbalance is not optimal - a program that is less balanced will not provide good opportunities for all the faiths to share deeply and hear from each other in small group sessions. As noted above, we suggest that every participant fill out an Expression of Interest form, committing to the dates of the program absent emergencies, and stating their religious affiliation, with a confirmation to be sent by the facilitators after the recruitment is completed. That way, if one faith falls a bit short on recruiting, the facilitators can balance by deferring participants from another faith. Also, that allows the facilitators to confirm that the recruitment efforts have yielded a critical mass.
How can individuals unaffiliated with a sponsoring faith community join an Interfaith Bridges program?
Individuals who are seeking interfaith experiences may be interested in joining an Interfaith Bridges program. Individuals can participate in an Interfaith Bridges program only through a sponsoring faith organization. Individuals are encouraged to invite their local faith communities to check out our website and to contact us if there is interest in sponsoring an Interfaith Bridges program. Unaffiliated individuals may be invited to join an Interfaith Bridges program by other participants or the facilitators.
Each of the religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) has many denominations, sects or traditions—how do you represent these faiths? Are the presentations balanced? From the website it appears that none of the BBT founders is clergy—how can you share meaningfully about your faith? Also, none of the founders is Muslim—how can you share authentically about Islam?
It is important for people of faith to come together to share our own personal faith experiences and our own individual understanding of our faith traditions. This sharing is authentic and allows every participant to offer their own perspective. Our program design thus allows space for different experiences and beliefs to be presented in a supportive setting. Participants are encouraged to share what they themselves have experienced or believe. Our guidelines make clear that there is no judgment to be offered by other participants—every one of us is an expert on what we ourselves believe and have experienced.
We present some basic information about each of our faith traditions, primarily through video presentations and some supplemental short written summaries, focused on the topic of the particular session. The videos are pitched at an introductory “30,000-foot” level and do not present a comprehensive or in-depth analysis of the topics covered. Our curriculum, including our video presentations on the topics in our sessions, has been created by lay people who identify as Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. Members of our curriculum working group are all active participants in our respective faiths. However, none of our curriculum working group is ordained or a credentialed expert in our respective spiritual traditions. Thus, our curriculum is created by lay people for lay people. We have had our curriculum reviewed by clergy or credentialed experts in each faith tradition, and their comments are reflected in the curriculum, but the work is our own. We are all individual practitioners, and we speak from our own perspectives—mainline Protestant Christianity, Reform Judaism, and U.S.-based Sunni Islam. While we try to present a balanced picture of our faith traditions and the broad diversity within each of our faith traditions, we can only speak to our own experience and beliefs.
What does the Interfaith Bridges Program cost and how can I find out more?
The Program Fee represents a cost per participant of about $42 if there are 24 participants. The respective faith communities may charge a fee to recoup some or all of the costs of the program, including the Program Fee and the costs, if any, of other components described under “Getting Started.” In our experience, participants are more likely to show up and treat the Interfaith Bridges program seriously if there is a reasonable charge associated with the program.
You can find out more by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Discounts and scholarships may be available.
The Program Resources are provided in the then-current form with no duty to update. All Program Resources will be provided via a shared Google folder, and designated facilitators will need to access the Program Resources through that folder.
Program Resources are downloadable by the designated facilitators, and may be used only in connection with the conduct of the Program; they may not be modified or reproduced or distributed beyond the designated facilitators except as expressly authorized in the Facilitator Guide included in the Program Resources.
We will provide up to 10 hours of free consulting for sponsoring faith organizations or their designated facilitators within the 12-month program period upon request, and will provide additional consulting during that program period at a rate of $100/hour.
As part of the Program, designated facilitators will survey participants about their experiences in the Program and the anonymous results of the participant survey will be shared with BBT and the facilitators.
At the end of the 12-month program period, access to the shared Google Drive will be terminated. The sponsoring faith organizations and designated facilitators will receive notice prior to termination and will be able to copy or download any information provided by the faith organizations or facilitators.
We will send an evaluation form to all designated facilitators once the program period has expired, and we look forward to your feedback!
Following completion of an Interfaith Bridges program, designated facilitators and participants may be registered as Alumni Bridge Builders. For an additional fee, sponsoring faith organizations can obtain additional alumni programming, including Tapestry program materials and resources. Alumni Bridge Builders will be eligible to receive notices of alumni events as these may be scheduled (these events may be remote programs via Zoom, or alumni events in the region, such as Interfaith Bridges Seders). Alumni Bridge Builders will be able to opt out of notifications.
What additional alumni programing is available?
We provide ongoing opportunities for further interfaith engagement for Interfaith Bridges alumni and their significant others through our Tapestry programs described on our website under "What We Offer." We offer stand-alone programs like Interfaith Seders, book and movie discussions, and dinner topics such as Life Cycle Events, Worship Practices, The Spirit Among Us, and Angels. Manuals and curriculum are available for an additional small fee to sponsoring faith communities. Contact us for more information about available Tapestry programming. People who are registered as Alumni Bridge Builders may also be invited to regional or national alumni events as these are scheduled (these events may be remote programs via Zoom, or in person alumni events in the region). Alumni Bridge Builders will be able to opt out of notifications.
When will you offer virtual programming?
Our programs are currently designed to be offered in person at the sites of sponsoring faith communities. We take heed of the wise words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who observed:
"To be fully human, we need direct encounters with other human beings. We have to be in their presence, open to their otherness, alert to their hopes and fears, engaged in the minuet of conversation, the delicate back-and-forth of speaking and listening. That is how relationships are made. That is how we become moral beings. That is how we learn to think as "We." This cannot be done electronically." Jonathan Sacks, Morality: Restoring the Common Good In Divided Times (2020).
We agree with Rabbi Sacks that presence and direct encounters are important ingredients in building relationships. Nevertheless, we do intend to develop on-line virtual programming for sponsoring organizations. Virtual programs will allow us to reach many more people across the United States. Of course, the experience offered in an on-line, virtual program will necessarily differ from our in-person Interfaith Bridges programs, particularly because the sharing of meals, dinner conversation and small group participation will lack the "direct encounters," "the delicate back-and-forth of speaking and listening" referenced by Rabbi Sacks.
We want to be thoughtful in developing effective virtual programming, using the lessons of the virtual programming offered in the pandemic to create good opportunities for relationships to blossom in the virtual space. We hope to offer both both virtual Tapestry programs for our alumni Bridge Builders and a virtual Interfaith Bridges program in the future. Stay tuned!