When clergyClergy are the body of ordained men (and in some cases women) who are authorized to perform the priestly, pastoral, or rabbinical duties of the community—as distinct from the laity whom they serve. members in Miami formed an interfaith dialogue group in 1935, they may not have foreseen that their efforts would resonate in Miami well into the next century. Yet, this dialogue group—a program of a then-newly formed regional chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews—reflects the same commitment that grounds the MCCJ today: individuals are better able to preserve their own well-being and act towards justice on behalf of others when they get to know each other. Today, this clergy interfaith dialogue group continues to be a place where Miamians can come together, voice concerns, address conflict, and work together for positive change. It is thought to be the oldest, continuous interfaith group of its kind in the country. Although the National Conference of Christians and Jews decentralized in 2005, the Miami chapter, now an independent organization, remained strong.
Today, MCCJ is simply called by its initials to be clear about its intentions to form expansive partnerships with a diverse range of religious groups, beyond just Christian and Jewish communities. The MCCJ is dedicated to eliminating intolerance and discrimination based on what the organization calls “The Big Nine” (race, ethnicity, religion, class/socio-economic status, gender orientation, age, appearance, and disability), although this list is not static (immigration status was recently added, in response to the issue’s ever-increasing significance in Miami). The organization stresses that a person’s experiences are impacted by the interplay of these identity markers, and that rarely does one marker definitely define a person’s identity. The MCCJ’s various programs often highlight this concept as they create opportunities for people to discuss sensitive, pressing issues within the community. Program directors also partner and collaborate with individuals from a variety of religious, community, and civic organizations to provide effective programs and services.
The organization’s various programs share a common purpose: to create a space for dialogue and to initiate and facilitate conversations between diverse groups and individuals. This is done consistently by modeling a tone of welcoming acceptance. The Interfaith Clergy Dialogue reflects these ideals and its longevity is a testament to the program’s success. During monthly meetings, religious leaders from across Miami-Dade County come together to discuss topics that range from issues of local import, political topics in the national spotlight, or philosophical and theological ideas.
MCCJ also seeks to promote discussion among the general public, not just religious leaders. In 2013, MCCJ began a citywide summer reading program, “Many Stories, One Miami.” Participants met monthly to discuss a book related to that month’s chosen topic. The topic for June was “Race and Identity,” for July, “The Immigrant Experience,” and August, “Religious Pluralism.” These discussions were open to the public and held at the city’s regional libraries. Each meeting was began with facilitators setting a tone and establishing the purpose for the meeting so that significant—and sometimes sensitive—issues could be put on the table in such a way as to promote cooperation, productivity, and reflexivity. At the conclusion of each meeting, participants were encouraged to reflect on their emotions as well as their desires for the future.
The MCCJ continues to be an invaluable resource and positive force in the Miami community. Despite its robust calendar of events and fast-paced schedule, the MCCJ and its program facilitators maintain a steady focus on their goals: to create opportunities for contact, facilitate healthy and necessary conversations, and promote a sense of unity and collective purpose in a large and diverse city.