Flushing Interfaith Council

Over 350 years ago, the people of Flushing penned the Flushing Remonstrance, a defense, of an individual’s right to freely practice their faith. It was a challenge to the governor of New York at that time, Peter Stuyvesant, who had issued a ban against practicing any religion except the Dutch Reformed ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church .... Resisting this ban, John Bowne hosted QuakerThe Quaker movement, properly known as the Society of Friends, had its beginnings in 17th century England with George Fox (1624-91), whose form of worship was liturgically sparse, relying on silence and the inspiring movement of the Inner Light, the spiri... prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. services in his home. Soon thereafter, arrested by Stuyvesant and exiled to Holland, Bowne relied on the principles of the Flushing Remonstrance to make a successful appeal of his arrest to the Dutch West India Company, who then ordered Stuyvesant to permit New York residents to practice their faiths freely.[1] Today, organizers of a local interfaith council in Flushing seek to honor the legacy of the Flushing Remonstrance by “build[ing] within Flushing a community that fulfills and surpasses the dream of toleration” enshrined in that document.[2] Since 2007, the Flushing Interfaith Council has grown from a committee convened solely to plan an annual Queens Unity Walk event to a robust council that now meets monthly to plan programming and serve as a support network for social justice and interfaith activists.

The first Queens Unity Walk was initiated and planned by a group of interfaith leaders, including Pax Christi, a Catholic organization that had planned previous interfaith walks in Brooklyn, and RabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... Michael Weisser, rabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. of the Free SynagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... of Flushing. After realizing there was no official interfaith council in Queens, Rabbi Weisser and other faith leaders called a meeting of the Unity Walk’s coordinators and proposed to transform the Unity Walk’s planning committee into a council. The committee members unanimously agreed and elected Rabbi Weisser as the council’s president, a position now held by Harpreet SinghUpon initiation into the Khalsa, Sikh men assume the name Singh, “Lion.”, a representative from the local SikhSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... community.

Today, the Flushing Interfaith Council includes both lay and religious leaders from various local religious institutions, including the Hindu TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... Society of North America, the Singh SabhaSabha is a general term for an assembly, a council, or the hall in which such an assembly meets. GurdwaraThe gurdwara, “the gateway of the Guru,” is the place for community gathering and worship in the Sikh tradition. The Guru is the Adi Granth, the sacred scripture of the Sikh tradition. Each center will include a chamber where the Adi Granth is kept, a... of New York, the Unitariana belief in one God that rejects the three persons of the Trinity that has much in common with the belief in the early Christian church about the superiority of God over Jesus and the Anti-Trinitarian writing that emerged during the Protestant Reformation... Universalist Congregation of Queens, as well as members of the local Muslim community. The Council is currently in the process of expanding its membership to include members of the Buddhist community. Runita Sutton, current council member and representative from Flushing’s Unitarian Universalist Church, describes member organizations as houses of worship who “strongly believe in the interfaith work, that as a community we need to know each other, visit each other, have a dialogue with each other, work on issues together that are very important for the health of the community.”[3] The Council uses voting to make decisions about future programing and to decide what kinds of fiscal and organizational support to give to local partners.

The Flushing Interfaith Council frequently partners with many other faith- and community-based organizations like the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding (CERRU) at Queens College, the Flushing Jewish Community Council, the Muslim Progressive Traditionalist Alliance, Pax Christi Metro New York, Women for Afghan Women, and Amnesty International. The Council’s programming reflects these diverse partners. Recent partner events have included an Amnesty International event marking the twelfth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, the Alternatives to Violence Project Workshop, a Weep for Gaza Interfaith Evening of Prayer, and a screening and discussion of the film Rethink Afghanistan. The Council also participates in and helps publicize the annual Flushing GaneshaGanesha is the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati and the keeper of the thresholds of space and time, to be honored at the doorway and at the outset of any venture. He is both the “lord of beginnings” and the “remover of obstacles.” Parade hosted by the Hindu Temple Society of North America.

Although the Flushing Interfaith Council plans different events throughout the year, including the Flushing Interfaith Annual Picnic, which brings members of various faith communities together at a local park, the Queens Unity Walk remains the largest. The Walk draws hundreds of people for a full day program and underscores the fact that many houses of worship in Flushing are located within just a minute’s walk of each other. During the Walk, participants learn about the history and traditions of the different places they visit and enjoy food sponsored by the Singh Sabha Gurdwara of New York. The event also gives people a chance to get to know and interact with each another. In addition the Unity Walk in Flushing, the Flushing Interfaith Council has helped to organize two Unity Walks in Richmond Hill, Queens.

The Flushing Interfaith Council is a member of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and day-to-day operations for the Council take place in office space at the Chamber of Commerce building. John Choe, a founding member of the Council and current executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, made this arrangement possible. Programming and activities of the Flushing Interfaith Council take place in local religious and communal venues while planning meetings are held in members’ houses of worship or private residences.

The Flushing Interfaith Council’s work is informed by and intertwined with the history and diversity of Flushing, a place where, as Rabbi Weisser says, “[i]f you keep your eyes open, you get to experience the whole world.”[4] “[It] is not a coincidence that [Flushing] has probably the highest concentration of faiths from around the world in one square mile,” John Choe explains, a nod to the neighborhood’s history of tolerance and inclusivity.[5] The Flushing Interfaith Council continues to draw inspiration from that history while actively embracing the new groups of immigrants shaping the future of the community.

[1] “The Bowne House Historical Society.” http://www.bownehouse.org/history_bowne_family.htm. Accessed 2 September 2015.

[2] “Flushing Interfaith Council.” https://flushinginterfaithcouncil.wordpress.com. Accessed 17 August 2015.

[3] Runita Sutton. Interview with author. 15 July 2015.

[4] Rabbi Michael Weisser. Interview with author. 22 July 2015.

[5] John Choe. Interview with author. 10 August 2015.