Lively faith group open to all religions

Discussion of novels, movies focus of clergy

A preacher, a priest and a rabbi are sitting in a coffee shop with about 50 people from a wide variety of faiths. Their differences set aside, they sit for hours enjoying conversations that last well beyond the 90 minutes set aside for their meeting.

No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke. But it does lead into a true story about three men of faith who’ve put their theological differences aside to enjoy a unique fellowship.

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The gathering was held last month at the Village Veranda in Alpharetta, and the response to the event was so positive the three clergy members are moving the next meeting to a location that will accommodate a larger crowd.

It all started when the preacher, the Rev. Joe Clifford, Alpharetta Presbyterian, invited the new Episcopal priest in town to play a round of golf. The preacher and the priest, the Rev. Rob Wood of St. Aidan’s, learned they had a lot in common and became friends.

Then the preacher met the rabbi, Ron Herstik of Congregation Dor Tamid, through Rotary Club connections and an interfaith couple that worshipped at both the church and the synagogue. Eventually the three clergy members met for conversations and realized “we really liked each other,” according to Clifford.

Using their friendship as a foundation, they decided to form a group – “A Preacher, A Priest and A Rabbi” – and host interfaith gatherings to discuss issues of life and faith.

“In a world where religion can be a polarizing force, the group hopes to offer a place for people of all faiths or no faith at all, to engage in conver- sation,” said Herstik.

Clifford believes that “it’s a lot more interesting to go exploring with people who come from different backgrounds, because it takes you to places you couldn’t go on your own. The more people you can bring on the journey, the more interesting it will be.”

The topic of discussion at the first gathering was Yann Martel’s novel “Life of Pi.” Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” will be the focus of the next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Oct. 25 at Mitties Tearoom, 62 North Main St. in Alpharetta.

Clifford cited statistics that show 38 percent of Alpharetta residents are not involved in a faith community.

“Our target is not to get them involved in a faith community, but to get them involved in their faith and to think about what faith means to them,” he said. “We come to the conversation expecting to be challenged and perhaps grow in our own faith.”

There’s no lecturing, just discussion centered around a novel or a movie facilitated by the preacher, priest and rabbi. There’s no debating denominations, beliefs or theologies.

“One thing we share in common: We’re clear that God is much bigger than any of us and bigger than our theologies, than we can conceive,” Clifford said. “Because we approach faith with that stance, we don’t feel threatened by each other and our differences.”

• Information: Check the Preacher, Priest and Rabbi link on St. Aidan’s Web site, www.staidans.org

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday October 12, 2005.
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