Center for Interfaith Encounter (CIE) (2001)

This profile was last updated in 2005

Dr. Malcolm Nazareth founded the Center for Interfaith Encounter in January 2000. He and his wife Mariani originally started the CIE group to celebrate the final year of the 20th century to counter concerns about Y2K problems and the end of the world. On CIE’s first
birthday anniversary in January 2001, representatives of 13 different religions came together in St. Cloud, a city in northern Minnesota which is sometimes referred to as “White Cloud” for its apparent lack of diversity. The 150 attendees surpassed everyone’s expectations in the diversity they represented. CIE is a very active organization.

The organization sponsors a diverse set of programs. One continuing program is their Sacred Texts of World Faiths series. Faiths covered as of September 2001 included Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, the Sikh faith, Unification, Unitarian
Universalist, and Wicca. Each series allows adherents of each faith to present their “best” text, that which is most accessible and informative for an audience without much background in that tradition. The general procedure for the hour-long sessions (generally four per tradition) is: five minutes of chanting in the original language of the text; a
thirty-minute presentation by a member of the faith, explaining the history of the tradition and selected texts; fifteen minutes of sharing among the interfaith group; five minutes of silence to ponder and show respect for the text and tradition; and a five minute closing chant, again in the original text language.

The Center’s other programs include Interfaith Couples Encounter, Interfaith Family Picnics, Interfaith Healing Prayer Sessions, and Interfaith Memorial Services. In July, the Center chose to tackle a controversial topic with a panel on Sexual Orientation and
World Religions, although this put much stress on the Center’s relationship with some members. In August 2001, the Center hosted a program to celebrate the Mississippi River, whose headwaters are found at Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota. The 21st Century
Intercultural Celebration of the Mississippi River at Itasca, open to all interested parties, aimed to educate participants about the natural history of the area and the history of the river’s significance to the Ojibwe people. The event also celebrated the river’s importance as a US national resource and as a natural and cultural site for modern people and included celebrations of water from other religious traditions.

The Center for Interfaith Encounter is a small organization in an unlikely location. Its existence stands as a witness to the diversity that exists even in the most unexpected parts of the United States. CIE is committed to educating all participants and treating all members and traditions with respect.