‘We Are All Neighbors’: Religious Leaders Build ‘Bridges’ Amid Immigration Debate

By Margaret Morton
Leesburg Today, August 24, 2007

As debate over the local impacts of illegal immigration continues to spark divisions among Loudouners, one organization is working to bridge cultural gaps using the county’s religious diversity as its foundation.

About 150 people from a wide variety of religious faiths gathered last weekend at Algonkian Regional Park to participate in the first event held by an organization called Bridges-Building Relationships for Interfaith Dialogue, Good Will, Education and Service. The group is composed of religious leaders from various faiths, including Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Quakers and Hindus working to find common ground among different faiths in Loudoun’s religious and spiritual community.

Ray Daffner, a member of Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation, who began the effort in January, said the event went very well. He said the gathering was important because it generated enthusiasm for the group’s goals and it “set the stage for us to do other things in service as a diverse community.”

Daffner said effort started in January. “We invited a dozen different faith communities to participate in a series of meetings, that involved building understanding, trust and education,” he said.

Sikh leader Sher Singh was among the earliest to support the idea. “The purpose of Bridges is to have a community dialogue between different faiths on issues that matter to all of us,” he said. To that end, the group looked at a number of issues and decided to bring in representatives of as many faiths as possible to examine various areas “we wanted to work on,” he said.

“It’s an expanding group,” Singh said Tuesday. First, its members decided to start with a small, “baby step” event, on which larger events and projects can be built.

Singh and Quaker Sheila Kryston, a retired clinical social worker, said the group would look at areas of service in which Bridges could help, perhaps medical services or improvements to existing services.

“We also want to work more with local governments in providing an interfaith liaison as some other local governments do,” Singh said.

The strong attendance from so many different faiths, surprised some participants and organizers. Kryston said she hadn’t even known there were that many different faiths represented in Loudoun and thought one benefit was that the gathering brought together a wide variety of people, who probably might not have known each other otherwise.

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