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Inter-Faith Outreach in Burnaby

The Strengthening Inter-Faith Bridges (SIFB) project in Burnaby is increasing awareness and understanding among faith groups and cultures.

The Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table (BIPT) has organized two well-attended inter-faith dialogues since the fall. These events were both held in the Edmonds neighbourhood where I live, a culturally diverse community that is home to many newcomers.

What does this have to do with Legal Aid? Faith communities can raise awareness and share information. They can contribute to the community response to challenges facing people with low incomes, and help to identify or deliver creative community-based solutions.

In 2011, we identified interfaith outreach as one of our priorities for developing new community relationships. In October last year, Lynn McBride, our community engagement coordinator, participated in “Engaging Community, Embracing Difference,” a symposium sponsored by Embrace BC. This BC government program supports SIFB and a number of other community projects across the province.

Following the Symposium, Lynn invited representatives from Embrace BC to attend a meeting with the LSS outreach team. Connections were established at a local level as well. Ivory Xi, one of our legal information outreach workers, is an active member of the BIPT Advisory Committee.

Who is attending the interfaith dialogues? People from the Sikh, Islamic, Christian, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Jewish faiths, and from the Aboriginal community. People who are not members of a faith group are also welcome.  Many are respected elders and community leaders. Many are new contacts for us.

We had an information table at the first interfaith dialogue in November, which Ivory attended. A panel shared their experiences with faith in their personal, professional, and community lives. The panel included a member of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, an ESL (English as a second language) educator who is a member of the Ismaili community, and a Jewish rabbi. The conversation included how inter-faith could help in sharing resources, building a support network for newcomers, and reaching out to help people living with mental health issues. Participants learned about the work of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness and how faith groups played a role in that initiative.

I attended the second dialogue last week. Speakers talked about faith and spirituality, universal human values such as compassion, and how faith groups can help to improve their communities. At my table, there were people from many different cultures and faiths, all interested in finding ways to make the community a better place.

It is interesting to note that the United Nations has declared the first week of February each year as World Interfaith Harmony Week.

What lies ahead? Among other objectives, BIPT hopes the project will lead to the development of an inter-faith action plan. Stay tuned for more updates.

To learn more about the Burnaby project, read the BIPT Inter-faith newsletter.

— John Simpson, manager, Community and Publishing Services

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