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Tips for Outreach to and Collaboration with Multi-faith Communities

If your group or organization is interested in developing an interfaith program involving communities that represent different faiths, or materials specifically for 2005 National Crime Victims' Rights Week, here are some tips for getting started.

Start early and be patient.

Faith leaders receive more mail and invitations than they can accommodate and often are reluctant to take on new initiatives. They are most likely to participate if they have been involved in the development of a program or project. It takes time to build trust, even among denominations or sub-groups of one faith. Start with a small group of representatives of various faiths who are already familiar with crime victims' issues and services. They do not necessarily need to be faith leaders, but may be volunteers in the community to whom victims informally turn for help. This initial group should meet a few times in order to move from tolerance to mutual respect and appreciation of each other. Early meetings might offer the opportunity for each group to share basic information about its faith, correct myths or misunderstandings, and identify common themes of peace and non-violence. The ultimate task of this group is to decide on a reasonable goal for commemorating 2005 National Crime Victims' Rights Week and identify interfaith members of a steering committee who can work together to achieve the goal.

Decide what you want to accomplish.

  • Sermon, homilies or teaching outlines for faith leaders who will address crime victims' most important concerns?

  • Newsletters or inserts for the worship bulletin depicting crime victimization and where to go for help?

  • Speakers' bureau of crime victims and victim services providers who will speak to faith groups during National Crime Victims' Rights Week?

  • Resource guide for cross-referrals between faith communities and victim assistance agencies?

  • Interfaith anti-violence forum or breakfast during National Crime Victims' Rights Week?

  • Dating violence materials for faith-based youth groups and organizations?

  • Domestic violence screening tools for pre-marriage counseling programs in faith communities?

  • A victim memorial service that is spiritually sensitive to all faiths in your community?

  • Theologically-based materials for each faith group that emphasize non-violence, compassion for victims, and offender accountability?

  • Brochure outlining how members of the faith community can support victims of crime?

  • Training about crime victim issues for faith communities?

  • A spiritually-sensitive crisis response plan in the event of a community disaster?

  • Other?

Develop a steering committee with commonalities.

Most steering committee members will emerge from the initial planning group. A few more key faith leaders may be added. While it would be ideal to bring together all faiths in your community, it is not likely to happen initially. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are likely to work well together because they share the same heritage. Buddhists and Hindus may work well together because of their common faith characteristics. Those who practice traditional Native American spirituality are accepting of other faith groups. If interdenominational groups within Christianity or interfaith groups have already been developed in your community, that's a good place to start.

Diversify leadership.

While one person may be identified to schedule meetings and plan logistics, all participants on the steering committee should have balanced and equal authority in all phases of program development and implementation.

Remember that an interfaith program is not a melting pot program.

An interfaith program is more like a mosaic than a melting pot. It is not realistic to seek to reduce each faith to a common denominator. However, it is reasonable to focus on multiple manifestations and expressions of a common theme, such as peace or anti-violence. For example, Jews may pray to Yahweh for peace; Christians may pray for peace in the name of Jesus; and Muslims may pray for peace directly from the words of the Qu'ran to Allah. Hindus and Buddhists are more comfortable with meditation than prayer. Never expect all groups to pray the same way.

Meet at different places to develop the program.

The sites of various committee meetings should rotate among the faiths, perhaps at a church one time and a synagogue, temple, or mosque the next. Likewise, if the program is to be an annual one, such as an Interfaith Memorial Service for Victims of Crime, the actual site of the service may change from year to year.

Don't expect universal participation.

A mailing to every faith community in your jurisdiction is not likely to be effective. Rely on steering committee members to distribute information about the program within their own faith groups; these personal contacts are essential for success. Each can introduce the program to their youth groups, congregations, service agencies, seminaries, and faith leaders through personally-signed cover letters or direct personal contacts.

Promising Practices in Interfaith Victim Services Programs

The Sabbath of Domestic Peace Coalition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers an annual focus on domestic violence in Jewish and Christian congregations. A 36-page booklet informs readers about domestic violence and provides worship resources for clergy. For more information, go to www.sabbathofdomesticpeace.org.

Daughters of Abraham in Arlington, Texas, is a group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women who came together after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to enhance their understanding of various faiths and seek peace within the community. For more information, contact jhlord2@comcast.net.

Crime Victims Services in Allen and Putnam Counties, Ohio, includes a Victim Ministry program to address spiritual concerns of victims. For more information, go to www.CrimeVictimServices.org and click on “Victim Ministry.”

STAND! Against Domestic Violence in Richmond, California, has partnered with the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program and Richmond Police chaplaincy in Contra Costa County to enhance spiritually-sensitive services to victims. The program offers faith breakfasts, community roundtables, and Faith Communities and Victims of Crime forums. For more information, go to www.standagainstdv.org.

The Crime Victims Advocacy Council in Atlanta, Georgia, includes a Pastoral Care Division that offers pastoral care, crime victim-specific worship services, biblical studies, hospital visits, and death notification services. For more information, go to www.gbgm-umc.org/cvac.

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National Crime Victims' Rights Week: Justice Isn't Served Until Crime Victims Are April 10–16, 2005
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