Conference Opens in S.F. to Build Interfaith Matrix

July 24, 2008

Author: Matthai Kuruvila

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle

The nation and the Bay Area in particular are increasingly interreligious places, and more people than ever view other faiths as equal to their own.

Yet religion is often seen as divisive, and many institutions, from prisons to hospitals, are grappling with what it means to have numerous faiths under their roofs.

There's a movement to help ease the transformation.

As part of a growing effort to build positive networks among believers of all kinds, one of the nation's pioneering interfaith groups is having its annual conference in San Francisco, starting today.

"We're living in a new kind of world, and we're trying to figure out how to do that constructively, to build bridges," said the Rev. Paul Chaffee, executive director of the Interfaith Chapel at the Presidio, which is hosting the gathering of the North American Interfaith Network.

"The bottom line is we're trying to get people to stop killing each other in the name of God," said Chaffee, who is also a United Church of Christ minister. "The task is to see if we can take this new religious culture and make it kinder and safer for all of us."

More than 150 religious leaders are expected to attend. Panels will discuss topics ranging from how to discuss theology, such as the acceptability of using a term like "God," to figuring out ways that religious groups can work together on common issues, like the environment. The Rev. Diana Wheeler of St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in San Francisco will talk about "Spiritual Artz," a way to create shared spiritual experiences and practices for children of many faiths.