News-Sentinel photo by J. Miles Cary
Rabbi Beth Schwartz of Temple Beth El makes a point during a discussion at a Knoxville Ministerial Association meeting at Ramsey Cafeteria.
By Jeannine F. Hunter, News-Sentinel staff writer
Days after the terrorist attacks in September, communities nationwide pledged to promote healthy dialogue among different faiths.
Ecumenical and interfaith services were held.
Invitations were extended for speakers from one faith to address communities of another faith or ideology.
n Knoxville, one organization has sustained cooperation and dialogue among representatives from various religious backgrounds for several decades. And it remains recognized by clergy as Knoxville's oldest and only interfaith and interracial ministerial association. .
The Knoxville Ministerial Association is a cosmopolitan body consisting of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, gay clergy, Unitarians, United Church of Christ members.
Membership is committed to doing more outreach to ensure that leaders within other faiths including Hindu, Islam and Baha'i know the organization exists and is open to them.
A new brochure and a plan to encourage representatives from other faiths are cited as steps the professional organization plans to take, said co-president Rev. John Lackey, 75, a retired United Church of Christ pastor and a founding member of the year-old East Tennessee Interfaith Alliance chapter.
"When new officers came in this year, the deliberate intention was to sort of start KMA over again and give it some new life and a more dynamic presence," Lackey said.
Its purpose is to provide a place for interfaith religious leaders to come together for mutual support and sharing; to provide opportunities for spiritual growth and education; to enable a healthy dialogue among different faiths and denominations; to advocate for a more just and peaceable world, with special emphasis given to the local community; and to engage in any lawful business as provided for in the Tennessee Nonprofit Corporation Act.
"It becomes a place that is very representative of the city rather than a particular neighborhood, or a section of the city so we can address social issues as they arise such as the living wage issue and so on," Lackey said. "It becomes a place where new persons can come and establish relationships right off when they move to town. It is a place where, most of the time, they can hear both sides of a controversial issue."
It has enlarged the Rev. Dixie Lea Petrey's worldview.
"The meetings themselves have people speaking about current issues in their communities," said Petrey, 64, a co-president. "It is a place where I meet religious leaders within our community and they make announcements about events and issues that concern them... And it's been a good support group for me; people who are interested in ministry who listen. I can dialogue with them and get ideas from them."
Petrey, who is the organization's first woman president, is a Baptist minister. She is chaplain and director of the pastoral care department at Shannondale Retirement Center & Assisted Living Center in Knoxville and Maryville.
"I like the fact that it is ecumenical, it is interfaith, it is interracial, and I feel that the people there truly feel called by God to serve God's people," she said. "This means a lot to me."
Programs it holds feature members and non-members and address current issues. Last November meeting, for instance, was a discussion on the war on terrorism and different religious communities' responses to it. The discussion featured Presbyterian minister Ralph Hutchison; Muslim leader Mohammad El-Harithi and Temple Beth El's Rabbi Beth Schwartz, who also serves as KMA's secretary.
"I could read newspapers and TV but it is different when someone is in front of you, sharing, and you can ask questions and dialogue with them," Petrey said.
Quoting religion author Diana L. Eck, whose latest offering is "A New Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Now Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation," changing religious landscapes nationwide necessitates meaningful dialogue and understanding among religious communities, Lackey said.
"My concern is that it become more thoroughly interfaith in its make-up," he said, acknowledging that there are no members from the Hindu, Muslim and Baha'i communities. "We have been interfaith several years but we have never really worked on increasing the varieties within the group."
KMA is important because it helps provide common knowledge among the faiths, Petrey said.
"We need to build bridges so we can know people as people. KMA is one place where religious leaders can find that. I think that's very important."
The organization meets at noon each third Thursday in the Green Room at Ramsey's Cafeteria, 1547 White Ave. Membership dues are $15 per year.i
Jeannine F. Hunter may be reached at 865-342-6324 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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