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Bridging Borders and Boundaries in a Troubled World

Report: NAIN Goes to Detroit

On the first full day of NAINConnect 2014 last month, as 150 participants fanned across greater Detroit in bussed site-visits, a torrential 6.2 inches of rain fell on Detroit in a few short hours. Not since ten taxis failed to show up in San Francisco in 2008 to transport NAIN participants from the university to a dinner-cruise on the Bay, have NAIN planners experienced so much unexpected disaster. Except the consequences in Detroit were mind-numbing.

The Islamic Center of America welcomed NAIN with a program about Islam and an extraordinary feast, graced with an interfaith panel addressing “From Hate to Hope.” – Photo: TIOTens of thousands lost their electricity as their basements flooded and backed-up toilets erupted. Two died, and the personal losses were beyond measure. Connect registrants made it back to our beds, as did most of the conference staff and volunteers. Detroit is hardly a city that needs more problems. In recent years its population has gone from 2 million to 600,000. Empty buildings abound, and a depth of poverty that shames the richest country in the world is inescapable.

That said, the Interfaith Leadership Conference of Metropolitan Detroit stood proud and produced a powerful four-day program focused on “Bridging Borders and Boundaries.” The conference opened with a banquet, followed by an interfaith concert and a powerful keynote by internationally acclaimed peacebuilder, Dan Buttry, on the importance of interfaith activists to connect and collaborate in taking on the challenges of a broken world.

Several dozen booths preoccupied those attending NAIN in Detroit between workshops. – Photo: TIO]Eighteen workshops were well-received, the frustration being that one could only attend four. The ones I enjoyed – on the future of interfaith, the challenges of interfaith chaplaincy, young adult perspectives on interfaith, and interfaith publishing – were worth the price of the trip.

A decade ago NAIN started a young-adults scholarship program, and for the third year in a row, more than a quarter to those participating were under 35. This year’s scholars, as usual, impressed everyone, a hopeful sign about the future of interfaith in North America.

Those attending NAINConnect 2014 gathered for a group photo during their site visit to St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church. – Photo: Bill ChapmanThe three plenaries were all accompanied by banquets – at Wayne State University (the conference site), the Islamic Center of America mosque, and St. Marys Antiochian Orthodox Church. We ate well!

At the final plenary, panelists included an imam, a rabbi, an Orthodox priest, and a Pentacostal pastor, moderated by an ecumenical seminary president. With passion and great humor, they gave witness to the critical collaboration that Dan Buttry called for at the start. Rather than leaving despondent about the problems faced by Detroit and this culture, participants were sent home inspired at how much we can do to create an interfaith culture that is inclusive, vital, and life-giving.

NAINConnects tend to have a variety of pleasures, but the Detroit planners went out of their way when the Dearborn site visit included a visit to a Muslim bakery. It took 30 minutes to get people back on the bus. Photo: TIOSpecial kudos to go Bob Bruttell, Gail Katz, Paula Drewek, Meredith Skowronski, and their many colleagues and volunteers who did the heavy lifting to make this Connect a success.

Next year NAIN moves to Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada (north of Calgary), for a July 19-22 Connect focused on “Restoring Spirit through Sacred Listening.”