Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington

IFC Metropolitan Washington logoWebsite: https://ifcmw.org/
IFC provides a platform for faith communities to unite as one voice for the respect and dignity of all.
 

 

Today, calls for greater cooperation and dialogue in our nation’s capital are more urgent than ever. While such calls are usually directed at political leaders, faith leaders in the Washington, D.C. area have taken it upon themselves to foster cooperation, dialogue, and action in their communities.

The Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington, known as IFCMW or simply IFC, was founded in 1978 and emerged out of a need for solidarity among faith leaders in the area. IFC initially started as a small group of leaders from Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic communities in D.C., but IFC today comprises a large body of member congregations that represent 11 religious traditions. While recognizing and celebrating each other’s particular beliefs and practices, members are brought together through their common values and shared desire to make D.C. a more welcoming and just place. IFC’s mission is to “to create a model in the nation’s capital of an inclusive community of diverse faiths focused on the values that unite us and the distinctions that make each of us unique.” [1] Over the past four decades, IFC has developed into a robust community, hosting a wide variety of events and activities aimed at cultivating relationships and advancing interfaith engagement.

 IFC facilitates myriad programs that foster interfaith community-building. For example, each year IFC hosts an interfaith concert, with performers from several different traditions, ranging from a Hindu and Jain dance school to a Christian praise band. There is also a regular interfaith leadership summit for young adults, and an active blog on the IFC website where people of various spiritual backgrounds can share reflections. To promote interreligious education, IFC offers a Teaching About Religion series and an Interfaith Speakers Bureau which provides speakers on interfaith topics. [2]

But among IFC’s most notable events is the annual Unity Walk, which brings together over 1,000 community members to visit houses of worship in D.C., celebrate religious diversity, learn about traditions and practices, and cultivate solidarity and respect. At the day-long Unity Walk, participants are not only invited into faith centers, but they also join in meaningful dialogue, contribute to service projects, hear musical performances, try recipes, and partake in other forms of cultural exchange. Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Unity Walk was held virtually. While that was a disappointment to some, Symi Rom-Rymer, the IFC Outreach Director, explained that having the “walk” virtually enabled congregations that are not usually on the physical walk to be included in the programming, and allowed for new elements and creative formatting. [3]

One of IFC’s grassroots initiatives is a network of congregations and individuals known as the Washington Interfaith Response and Outreach Coalition (WIROC). WIROC serves the D.C. metro area by responding to acts of targeted vandalism, hateful speech, and other forms of attacks on faith communities and individuals. Through WIROC, IFC can mobilize its members and resources to directly counter hate and support community members in the wake of attacks. Rom-Rymer explained that IFC also hosts events under the WIROC “umbrella,” such as a series on securing houses of worship and a program that explores how faith communities can be allies in responding to bigotry. [4] 

IFC’s WIROC is also responsible for facilitating the Day of Unity – an annual day of grassroots action in which the IFC invites people around the D.C. area to create their own interfaith projects. Day of Unity enables folks of various faiths (and none) to collaborate in creating a local event, such as a meal, an iftar, a dialogue, a musical activity, a textual study, a panel discussion, a book talk, or a shared worship service. [5] This decentralized programming embodies a model of interfaith work that empowers people to take initiative in their own communities, to take ownership of their interreligious relationships, and to tailor events to the needs and interests of the particular people involved.

Beyond these programs, IFC is active in the broader D.C. community. They helped found the National Capital Area Food Bank and the Coalition for Homeless and Housing Organizations, and they have collaborated with local anti-poverty groups to create interfaith service programs. In addition to the Emergency Services Directory that IFC already operates, throughout the COVID-19 crisis, IFC has assembled a list of resources on their website for people in need. IFC also helps connect folks to spiritual resources, in posting a running list of congregations offering live-streamed worship services. While IFC is not a direct service organization, they have focused on amplifying and uplifting work that faith communities are doing throughout the pandemic. 

“Amplifying and uplifting” could also be said to be a theme of IFC’s response to the resurgence of racial justice protests in the past year. Rom-Rymer recounts seeing the president clear protestors from St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C, and wondering what role IFC could play. That moment prompted IFC to reach out to the National Cathedral, with whom they already had a strong and close working relationship. Together, they planned an interfaith event at St. John’s in June 2020 to create a platform where people could share how their faith compels them to speak up and act for Black Lives Matter. IFC gathered together speakers of many different faith traditions who spoke to attendees about the importance of elevating Black and marginalized voices. [6] 

Even before the recent resurgence of protests, however, IFC has been working on becoming an anti-racist organization and thinking about what that means for interfaith work. IFC hosts an annual interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, in which participants gather to share joy and learn about how to work towards racial justice together. [7] But IFC’s engagement with racial justice goes beyond this one event: as IFC’s Executive Director Rev. Dr. David Lindsey put it, “How can you be, in my mind, the Interfaith Council of Washington without really grappling with systemic racism?” [8] Because IFC comprises 11 different faith traditions, Rev. Dr. Lindsey said it can sometimes be hard to garner complete consensus on social policy issues – but there is “universal agreement around the table” on the need to fight racism in D.C. and across the nation. As such, racial justice is a key part of how IFC frames its dialogues and programming. IFC is currently developing a video to share with faith communities that features Black members of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities discussing the intersections of race and their faiths. [9] 

All of IFC’s work rests on a common foundation: dialogue. Rom-Rymer expressed that the thrust of IFC’s work is public programming to create spaces – both physical and metaphorical – that allow people to come together, ask questions, and “have complicated conversations on issues pertaining to faith.” [10] Rom-Rymer explained that with IFC, such dialogue happens in a variety of ways, from moderated conversations and panel discussions to events like the Unity Walk and the annual concert. Even the regular themed dialogues that IFC hosts can take on various formats and venues and tackle a range of themes – anything from healthy parenting to social justice issues. Sometimes a particular congregation will host a dinner to invite neighbors to reciprocally learn about their faith and to share their own experiences and traditions. Other times, dinner dialogues take place in people’s homes, guided by an appointed facilitator – allowing people of different religious or spiritual backgrounds to share a meal and good conversation in an intimate space. [11]

Rom-Rymer stated that while their programming is continually evolving, “dialogue in and of itself” is always at the heart of IFC’s work. Rev. Dr. Lindsey echoed her: “Interfaith dialogue is the core of what we do.” [12]  The Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington exemplifies what is true for many successful interfaith organizations: that enabling communities to participate in genuine, compassionate, and interpersonal engagement is the basis of understanding, solidarity, and social change.

[1 https://ifcmw.org/about-us/history/, https://ifcmw.org/about-us/vision-mission/

[2 https://ifcmw.org/about-us/history/

[3] Interview with Symi Rom-Rymer, IFC Outreach Director, August 12 2020.

[4] Interview with Symi Rom-Rymer, August 12 2020.

[5 https://ifcmw.org/programs/wiroc/https://ifcmw.org/day-of-unity/

[6] Interview with Symi Rom-Rymer, August 12 2020.

[7 https://ifcmw.org/programs/mlk/

[8] Interview with Rev. Dr. David Lindsey, IFC Executive Director, August 13 2020.

[9] Interview with Rev. Dr. David Lindsey, IFC Executive Director, August 13 2020.

[10] Interview with Symi Rom-Rymer, August 12 2020.  

[11 https://ifcmw.org/programs/dinnerdialogues/

[12] Interviews with Rom-Rymer and Rev. Dr. Lindsey, August 12-13 2020.