“Interfaith is about finding common ground and lessening the fear of the unknown” Philip Carr-Harris, Executive Director of Dutchess Interfaith Council, told a group of Master of Divinity students studying “Ecumenism and Interfaith” on Wednesday March 5, 2008.
The class visit was part of a landmark overnight stay by Mr. Carr-Harris at UTS, which is located in Dutchess County, New York, and is therefore within the circle of the Council’s concern. The stay included an evening forum on “Leading Interfaith Activities”, a breakfast with the UTS President, Vice President and Academic Dean, a sermon in the community chapel service, and a lunch with students about Field Education opportunities with the Council. In the thirty-year shared history of the Council and the Seminary, Mr. Carr-Harris is the first Executive Director of the Council to speak in the UTS Chapel.
Reflecting on his first experience of UTS, Mr. Carr-Harris commented, “I love coming here being among the many cultures.” He observed that the seminary community is “a wonderful opportunity to grow” and is a “tremendous resource” for the Council. UTS is currently exploring ways in which the Seminary and the Council can advance interfaith relations and cooperate in common action for the common good in Dutchess County.
Mr. Carr-Harris assumed the position of Executive Director in 2005, and is demonstrating his leadership by widening the circle beyond just Jewish and Christian Communities to represent the growing religious diversity of the region. He is also committed to bringing religious communities together around social needs and concerns, and has facilitated religious social action by moving the office of the Council to the Family Partnership Building in Poughkeepsie, which is also home to more than thirty social service organizations that serve the needs of local residents. Students who do Field Education with the Council will have the opportunity to work out of that office with a multi-faith team of staff and volunteers.
In the past year, UTS students have participated in various Council events, including the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner in November and the Interfaith Music Concert at Vassar College. Two UTS faculty, Pastor Mark Isaacs and Imam Asil Khan, lead religious communities that hold membership in the Council.
The Dutchess County Interfaith Council, founded in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1972, is one of the oldest local interfaith councils in the United States. The almost sixty member congregations include ten religious traditions, seven of which are represented on the Board of Directors.