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A Greenhouse for Interfaith Growth:The Religious Leaders Diversity Workshop at Hartford Seminary

Contributed by Qalvy Grainzvolt

On June 3rd, about thirty scholars, clergy, chaplains, educators, activists, and students assembled for the Religious Leaders Diversity Workshop at Hartford Seminary.

The professor who coordinated this five-day graduate level course, Dr. Lucinda Mosher, called the workshop a “laboratory.” At first I could not see her vision. A room full of peoplein an academic setting did not seem to me to have the dynamic ingredients necessary for exciting, transformative things to happen. However, in fact, it was truly like spending a week in a metaphoric “greenhouse,” located in a picturesque nook of Hartford, Connecticut, where current and future leaders in interfaith work further blossomed.

Having been born and raised in New York City, I have prided myself on being well-versed in diverse cultures and traditions. However, the landscape in America is continuously changing and there is always room for more growth.  At present, I am serving as a member of the clergy of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order at the New York branch temple.  This temple is my oasis, but can be my island too.  Stepping outside of my comfort zone (and doing so more often) is so important and that lesson was made clear to me in part through attending this workshop with such a diverse pool of participants.

In reflecting on this experience, I would like to share the final moments first.  These were moments that brought the whole week to fruition.  There were many voices of reflection and gratitude on that final day.  Some were voices of gratitude toward the Shinnyo-en Foundation and to Her Holiness Keishu Shinso, the spiritual head of Shinnyo Buddhism, for the grant that helped make this workshop possible.  One person even said he wanted to write a letter to Her Holiness directly, to say “Thank you.”  I was touched by those sentiments.  The overall consensus of all was that having a forum to delve deeper into the issues of interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding in a multifaith world is vital!  For each one of us to have a permanent seat and a constant voice at the proverbial interfaith table is crucial.  Each attendee shared a blessing or words from their spiritual tradition as a final send-off for everyone’s safe return home.  We gathered in a circle as we did so.  I shared some words of reflection and chanted two core mantras of Shinnyo Buddhism.  The Persian rug in the middle of the classroom that we were all standing on looked like a Buddhist mandala (i.e. cosmic view of the world) as the position of our human circle framed the beautiful center design.  For me, I saw an ordinary seminary classroom transform into something much more.  Dr. Mosher’s mention of this space being a laboratory rang true at that moment.