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Breaking down barriers

Multi-faith dialogue group encourages communication among neighbors

Created date

September 24th, 2013
Dale Hooper and Bob Brenner
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Bob Brenner vividly recalls a pivotal moment in his spiritual journey.

“I’m Jewish, and my wife Viva and I are long-time members of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas,” says Bob. “About 25 years ago, members of the All Saints Catholic Community invited our congregation to share what we believe.”

Those initial meetings turned into a monthly dinner between the two faith communities that continues to this day.

“We still meet with friends from the All Saints Catholic Community for an open, honest dialogue about our faiths,” says Bob. “The experience changed me. It broke down invisible religious barriers and gave me a fresh appreciation for people who have different beliefs.”

Now Bob is drawing from that experience in a new setting.

An unexpected friendship

“Viva and I moved to Highland Springs in July 2012,” says Bob. “I met Dale Hooper shortly after we moved in. When I learned that he was a retired Baptist minister, I wasn’t sure we’d have anything in common.”

But as Bob and Dale got to know each other, their friendship grew. Dale and his wife Polly had moved to Highland Springs from Fort Worth six years earlier.

“I was a cross-cultural missionary in Kenya for 27 years,” says Dale. “Then I returned to Richmond, Va., and worked at the International Mission Board headquarters until I retired.”

Soon, Bob and Dale were meeting for coffee several times a week and sharing their views freely with one another.

“In religious terms, Dale and I disagree completely with one another, but we do so without being disagreeable,” says Bob. “We don’t try to change the other person; we’re just trying to learn more about each other’s beliefs.”

A new club

When Bob shared the history between Shearith Israel and All Saints Catholic Community, he and Dale agreed that a similar dialogue would benefit residents at Highland Springs.

“We mentioned our idea to Lil [Smith, pastoral ministries coordinator], and she liked it,” says Dale, who currently serves on the community’s Interfaith Council.

“The mission of pastoral ministries is to encourage the spiritual journey of every resident,” says Smith. “When Bob and Dale approached me with the idea of forming a multi-faith dialogue group, I felt it was a natural extension of that mission.”

The new club held its first meeting in early 2013 with 28 members from diverse religious backgrounds, including Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon.

Getting personal

The group initially discussed holiday celebrations but quickly delved into more personal topics.

“Someone suggested we each share our own faith journey,” says Bob. “It was such an eye-opening experience. We have one Catholic member whose father was killed by Nazis for hiding Jews during World War II. You understand people so much more when you know what’s shaped them.”

“Our goal is to learn from each other in a supportive manner,” adds Dale. “We want to bridge gaps between various religious groups without stereotyping. The multi-faith dialogue group allows that to happen.”

New insights

Mary Crowley moved to Highland Springs in August 2011. She was intrigued when she heard about the multi-faith dialogue group.

“I was born and raised a Methodist,” says Mary. “For much of my life I felt I was correct in my beliefs, and I couldn’t understand why other people didn’t agree with me. Now that I’ve had the chance to learn about others’ backgrounds, I understand and appreciate where they are coming from.”

Mary says the chance to ask questions and dialogue back and forth is invaluable.

“I’m grateful we have an opportunity to learn from each other,” she says. “You realize the value of each person, even if you don’t share the same beliefs.”

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