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Meeting People Where They Are

A New Model 

Meeting People Where They Are

by Rev. Andrea Goodman

Can a ten-year-old religious nonprofit that is not a church thrive and grow without fundraising and with no employees? Yes! Here is the story of The Interfaith Peace Project.


In 2006, Fr. Tom Bonacci and I were in a café sharing a meal in San Francisco. We each carried the grief of recent program losses. Tom’s Interfaith Center at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was closed, and a nonprofit attempt that I had been involved with collapsed.

But that night in the café, I asked Tom a question: Have you ever thought about creating a nonprofit to support your interfaith work? Yes, but he said he did not have the time to wade through the paperwork. Fortunately, I knew how, and we would do it together. It was as if Phoenix was rising out of the ashes for each of us. The Interfaith Peace Project became a reality in 2007 as a nonprofit corporation.

Photo: IPP

Photo: IPP

Our mission is to provide home and local-based education programs to individuals and groups interested in developing or enhancing their appreciation of the world’s faith traditions. We design introductory programs to help participants cope with inherited stereotypes, innocent misunderstandings, embarrassing questions, or general knowledge of humankind's many faith traditions. We provide contact information for those who would like to meet people from the various faith traditions and perhaps visit their places of worship. Our primary scope is Northern California, but we are also in other U.S. locations and Europe.

We go where people are and where they want to meet. That means we are in people’s homes, in faith centers, and in hotels. This is a different model than most brick and mortar places of worship that rely on people coming to them. While our model mirrors the practice of itinerant teachers found in many of the world’s religions, it is also a response to the growing number of spiritually independent and religiously unaffiliated. However, we have neither asked nor studied participants' religious or spiritual affiliation. What is more important is meeting every person as they are. We believe that interfaith work can happen between any two people, even from the same faith tradition.

Celebrating Ten Years of Interfaith Ministry

The Interfaith Peace Project not only celebrated our Tenth Anniversary in 2017. We expanded. This year we added two new Centers and one Reading Room. Through attraction rather than promotion, two married couples independently decided to dedicate a part of their respective homes as a Center. We also opened an Interfaith Reading Room, based on the Christian Science Reading Room concept. These meeting places offer a safe retreat to study, pray/meditate, and gather. If you are ever in Northern California, we would be blessed by your presence.

A small volunteer staff in northern California keep IPP thriving. June Kirk directs the Antioch Center, in Antioch, California. Our flagship center has more than 4,000 books and artifacts; and hosts meetings, classes, and solitude. Directors Leah Grace Maxwell-Styles and Beth Maxwell-Styles run our Tri-Valley Center in Livermore, where they host classes and day retreats. Melissa and Phil Granchi co-direct the Evergreen Center in Pine Grove, hosting retreats with space for overnight guests. 

Our Interfaith Reading Room is hosted by the Mercy Center in Auburn.

Meet Our Executive Director, Board of Directors, and Advisory Board

Tom Bonacci – Photo: IPP

Tom Bonacci – Photo: IPP

Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P. a Passionist priest in the Roman Catholic tradition, is The Interfaith Peace Project’s executive director. He is a scripture scholar of the world’s religions, and he teaches the bulk of our classes. Tom is an inspired thinker, a skillful administrator, and a compassionate pastoral counselor. In addition to his role with The Interfaith Peace Project, he is on the retreat team at Christ the King Retreat Center in Citrus Heights, California.

George D’Angelo, founder of the UN International Day of Peace Vigil, has called Father Tom a man of vision.  “Tom’s programs are less about learning the differences and similarities in religions, and more about understanding, respecting, and connecting to all humankind.”

Board of Directors: The Interfaith Peace Project Board is unlike any other board on which I have served. In addition to ensuring that we stay true to our mission and use funds wisely, we truly care about and support one another. As the president of the Board, I guarantee time at each meeting to hear about and support each other’s interfaith ministries. This time is often the highlight of our meetings.

When we have decisions to make, the vote must be unanimous, not simply a majority, though this has happened less than a handful of times during our ten years. Also, early in our history, the Board members commited themselves to making The Interfaith Peace Project part of each of their lives and ministries, and to making their lives and ministry part of The Interfaith Peace Project. This supports the idea that Tom introduced: “We do this together.” And we do. 

Our Board has seven members, all of them involved in their own ministries.  We include a retreat leader; an interfaith spiritual director; leaders of peace pole planting and interfaith youth; prison and hospice chaplains; and clergy. I am so grateful to my fellow Board members:  June Kirk, Patricia Black, Lonnie Bristow, M.D., Rev. Patrick Davis, Melissa Granchi and Leah Grace Maxwell-Styles.  We also proud of our Advisory Board, led by Randy Thomas, with members from the United States, Tanzania, and Ireland.

New Model of Interfaith Peace

                                                Photo: IPP

                                                Photo: IPP

We joined a new model of interfaith peace that is taking place throughout the world. We, like others, champion Hans Kung’s pronouncement that there will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions, and there will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions, cultures, and philosophies.

We continue to join individuals, nonprofits, nongovernment organizations, and faith and government leaders who dedicate their actions to promoting and attaining peace and understanding through interfaith spirituality.

We create interfaith peace through Dialogue, Understanding, Cooperation and Peace. Each invites us to ask, how do you express this in your tradition, in your life, in your person?

  • Dialogue: We create opportunities for people to dialogue first with themselves and then meet those of different faiths at our Interfaith Centers and through Sacred Visits. We distinguish the difference between listening for understanding and listening for agreement. Listening for understanding creates solidarity with another. Listening for agreement creates a wall between us against them. We strive to see each difficult conversation as an invitation for interfaith work.
  • Understanding: We teach classes for groups of one or more about faith traditions of the world and offer a safe place to encounter personal biases and stereotypes. We highlight the importance that insight into personal stereotypes and personal beliefs play in respectful interfaith dialogue and interfaith peace work.
  • Cooperation: We pair with interfaith councils and peoples of faith to stand by faith communities who experience hatred or violent acts, to advocate for the poor and oppressed, and to share and work with interfaith leaders.
  • Peace: We encourage cultivating peace within individual hearts and within organizations. We practice peace through our stewardship of The Interfaith Peace Project, and as we meet people both in our Centers and out in the world. We plant Peace Poles; offer safety and solace in our Centers and Interfaith Reading Room; and share food with people victimized by homelessness. We also annually co-sponsor an International Day of Peace, Interfaith Harmony Week, and International Women’s Day events. And on the web we blog about peace in light of world events. These are external signs of the interior ways of how we live.

No Fundraising, Really?

Really! We do gratefully accept donations. We offer hundreds of programs each year and although we do not charge for programs, we receive good will offerings and have successfully received a couple of grants that are program specific. This has been our practice from the beginning, and we are thriving and growing. We have several generous donors who are inspired by the work we do and choose to contribute regularly.

One way we keep our costs contained is having no employees. Everything we do happens because of the generosity and graciousness of volunteers. This includes our executive director and the Center directors.


Photo:  Infinite Love

We believe that all faith communities have a responsibility to speak up against injustice, regardless of who is the victim or the aggressor. Our current world has so many injustices, from abused women and children to people who are killed because of their race or religion or place of birth. We march for justice and we speak out in our blogs.

We call on everyone in the interfaith community to not only model what the world could be but to work toward that time when Peace Prevails On Earth.


To contact The Interfaith Peace Project, call +1-925-303-9879  or learn more at http://www.interfaithpeaceproject.org/

With great appreciation, it should be noted that The Interfaith Peace Project has served as The Interfaith Observer's fiscal agent since the publication launched six years ago.

Header Photo: Public Domain Pictures