As religious groups worldwide continue to be persecuted by, and perpetrate, violence of horrific proportions, it’s hard to believe that anyone in Philly is doing timelier, more essential, or more widely applicable work on forging connection than Interfaith Philadelphia.
The South Kensington-based nonprofit, founded in the wake of 9/11 by Abby Stamelman Hocky, began with the vision, as Stamelman Hocky says, of “making religion a force for good in our region—no matter how people orient around religion.”
Since then, it’s rolled out a wide range of high-impact programming, including but not limited to: running one of the largest interfaith teen programs in the nation, supporting a religious leaders council with 32 major faith communities actively engaged in relationship to one another, offering workplace diversity training to clients like PECO and IBX, providing interfaith service experiences for students on school break, and spearheading a women’s program with a consistent waitlist.
“Mostly, we want to move the needle on making interfaith understanding and cooperation more of a social norm,” Stamelman Hocky says.
The thread that runs through all of its work: making connections, deepening understanding.
“Mostly, we want to move the needle on making interfaith understanding and cooperation more of a social norm,” Stamelman Hocky says. The organization strives with everything it does to remove the taboo, stigma, and mystery surrounding religion, something a recent Pew study showed that 53 percent of adults value as important in their lives. “It’s ok to talk about religion, and proudly so. It’s a big part of our society and values,” says Stamelman Hocky, who’s Jewish. “I am proudly engaged in Jewish life as part of a vibrant congregation,” she says. “I find nourishment in the rhythm of the Jewish year.”
The group’s staff consists of atheists, a Lutheran pastor, and believers of every stripe. And they welcome citizens of all backgrounds to their work through programs like their annual summer Gateway to Religious Communities tours of Philly places of worship, and newer community initiatives like their upcoming mural painting session at the Aquinas Center in South Philly.
Over the course of the last half year, they’ve rolled out a series of events with the theme of Civil Conversations: There were (and will continue to be) facilitator trainings to equip community leaders with skills to organize civil dialogue; conversations led by community leaders throughout Philly on topics ranging from white supremacy to the intersection of the LGBTQ+ community and religion; and live events—in partnership with NewCORE, WHYY, the National Constitution Center, Penn, and Temple—to model the skills needed to navigate complex topics.
On Monday, as a culmination of the Civil Conversations series, the organization will host the first-ever Philly-based live recording of the award-winning On Being podcast and public radio show, with host Krista Tippett.
“Without thinking about it, you end up hearing 50 minutes of really rich and engaging conversation, and you feel another paradigm that is not your usual way of communication,” says Stamelman Hocky.
For the uninitiated: Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and bestselling author whose hundreds of deeply moving podcasts explore humanity and purpose and have featured deep thinkers like Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, Eckhart Tolle, and Glennon Doyle…to name a few. In 2014, President Obama awarded Tippett the National Humanities Medal. And on Sunday night, she’ll receive Interfaith Philadelphia’s Dare to Understand Award.
To her listeners, Tippett is a rock star—if rock stars had graduated from Brown University, become Fulbright scholars, reported for The New York Times from West Berlin, and received a masters in divinity from Yale.
For the Tippett devotees: Get your tickets now. General admission is $20; $200 will get you access to a VIP reception with Tippett.
Recording at Congregation Rodeph Shalom on North Broad Street, Tippett will lead her guests, Shane Claiborne and Ambassador Omar Saif Ghobash, in a discussion about how interfaith relationships have shaped their lives. Claiborne is the author of Jesus for President and The Irresistible Revolution; he worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and founded The Simple Way in Philadelphia. Ghobash, the former United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Russia and Ambassador to France, is the author of Letters to a Young Muslim and a founding trustee of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
“If you miss it, it might not come back,” warns Andrew Feigenbaum, Interfaith’s communications director. “So people who are interested should really take advantage of this time that she’s here.”
Stamelman Hocky is eager to experience the signature Tippett effect of having her worldview opened further. “I was recently re-reading one of Krista’s quotes, that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty. And I think that’s her success: Without thinking about it, you end up hearing 50 minutes of really rich and engaging conversation, and you feel another paradigm that is not your usual way of communication.”
And to think: On Monday night, you can have that experience in your own backyard.
Monday, April 29, 7 pm (doors open at 6 and close at 6:50), Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N Broad StreetPhoto via Krista Tippett