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ING GUIDELINES FOR HOSTING AN INTERFAITH HOLIDAY EVENT
As we enter this blessed period, we invite members of all faith communities to take advantage of the holiday season to learn a bit more about another faith, while renewing a commitment to their own faith. At ING we have also used our many years of experience to compile guidelines for hosting interfaith events around the time of religious holidays. Since the entire purpose of these events is to provide a positive experience and representation of one’s faith, it is just as important how the event is executed as having the event itself.
ING Guidelines for Hosting an Interfaith Holiday Event
- Carefully evaluate the sites available to you for your event before choosing the one that offers the best maintained and hospitable environment with the appropriate space for your guests to mingle and enjoy the festivities. It’s always better to use a site that already has an inviting appearance so that your efforts in decorating will not become too costly with extra expenses. However, many party stores now offer wonderful decorations, center pieces, table coverings and settings that can add extra appeal and color to your dining area, whether at home or at a reserved location. Houses of worship and community centers are always good venue choices if you plan to host a sizable gathering.
- If you choose to hold your event at a reserved location, you will want to inspect the room(s) well before you prepare for the event. This will allow you to call in the site’s own custodial help to freshen bathrooms and dining areas if needed. Assign people to oversee general maintenance and garbage disposal throughout the event. When your event has ended, have volunteers ready to help with general cleanup if no “after hours” custodial service is offered by the site you have reserved.
- Create a flyer or card that is colorful and professional looking. Request that all your guests RSVP to keep track of the number of people attending your event. Invitations come in many styles. If your prospective guests are technologically savvy, you can always use email messaging or send them an “evite” via any of the better known web sources such as Evite.com. This method will allow you to keep daily track of RSVPs and the option of resending modified invitations as the event draws closer. If you would like a warm, interfaith touch, you can always choose stationary that reflects the nature of your event, or create your own by using clip art on your computer. Whichever method you decide is best, it should reflect your sentiments and your desire to break bread with people of other faiths.
- To make your event truly interfaith, be sure to invite colleagues, friends, classmates, or community leaders who you feel would enjoy sharing this blessed holiday event together with you and others of your faith. Select guests who will be willing to join into conversations so that they may share their personal and faith experiences with others.
- If children will be present at your event, make sure there is a safe area for them to play in (with toys, games, or perhaps a video player), and hopefully with an adult to watch over them. If space is limited and no one will be available to babysit, then this information should be shared prominently in the invitation so that parents with children will know and provide for their own babysitting at home. If the event is for adults only, this fact should also be prominently stated in the invitation.
Greeting and Seating
- A few qualified people can be designated as greeters, preferably one per table. The greeters job would be to welcome guests of other faiths, guide them to their tables, and act as their hosts throughout the evening if possible; it would be best that they not be given any other responsibilities that would take them away from their guests. Your greeters should be chosen carefully since they will be the spokesperson for your faith and should be capable of answering basic questions and making their guests feel comfortable.
- Name tags for all of your participants would be a very welcoming touch and allow each of your guests to speak by name to each other.
- It would be best to seat families or couples together. If your community separates men from women, at this first encounter with segregated seating, your guests of other faiths might feel uneasy or alienated, so seating them in groups will give them a sense of security until they begin to mingle as the event progresses.
- Try to make sure that there is a seat and a place at the table for every guest (if it is a sit down dinner), even those guests arriving late. Guests from other cultures or faiths may feel that they were not expected (or wanted) if there is no seat for them and may end up leaving within a short period of time. However, if your event is buffet style, and especially if it is held within a home, there may be many guests who stand and mingle for the greater part of the time.
- Whether ordering the dinner or making it yourself, try to create a menu that offers choices that are palatable to guests of other faiths who are not used to very spicy or hot foods, for example. Having “something for everyone” would be inclusive and welcoming to your guests. Make sure you include vegetarian dishes for guests who do not eat meat.
- In an effort to be environmentally friendly, it would be best if when using disposable utensils, you use quality products, avoiding the use of non-biodegradable or non-recyclable products. Designate a separate container for recycling bottles or cans. Serve juice or natural drinks, if possible.
- If you have arranged for the dinner to be catered, be sure to have the caterer deliver the meal at least ½ an hour before you plan to eat. This will allow you enough time to arrange the food appropriately before your guests sit down. Your dinner can either be served to the tables or buffet style, depending on the size of the room and number of guests. If the room is small and it is a relatively a small group of guests that can be served quickly, it might be best to have volunteers serve the guests. If it is a large room with space for two or more serving stations or lines, buffet style could be more efficient.
- The formal program should be brief and concise. All efforts should be made to begin and end on time.
- It would be especially helpful if a brief agenda or program could be available for your guests, either as they enter at the registration desk or during dinner on every table. The program can include a brief bio of the speakers, mention of any sponsors or special guests, and most importantly, a brief overview of the holiday and its rituals.
- You can begin the program with a recitation from your scripture that speaks of commonalities shared values and beliefs with other faiths), reading a few verses and including the English translation as well for your guests.
- The program should include a basic overview of the faith if time allows, and a keynote presentation on the importance/significance of the holiday you are sharing. The emphasis for both should be upon commonalities and shared beliefs or traditions with other faiths. Providing every minor detail is not as important, or as desirable, as conveying a sense of shared values.
- The presentation should allow adequate time fo
r a question and answer period, preferably at the conclusion of the presentation. This is when your guests will finally have their chance to ask pertinent questions and share their own faith experiences. All questions should be treated as interesting and appropriate, and all questions should be responded to politely.
- If you have time in your event, you may want to include a couple of speakers from different faiths. Choose speakers with experience in their faith’s work or in interfaith work. Make sure you select speakers who have speaking experience, are interesting and knowledgeable. Since you may have guests who could find it difficult to understand a very thick accent, it is important that the speaker’s pronunciation be relatively clear so that your guests will get the most out of his/her message.
- Speakers should be advised to avoid wording that might come across to the guests as preaching or proselytizing. The role of your speakers should be to inform and educate, rather than convert. An easy tool to ensure this is to preface statements with terms such as: “The (name of the) religion teaches” such and such. Speakers should present the faith with the goal of being accurate and fostering understanding and harmony.
- If pre-scheduled prayers fall during the time of your event, guests should be given the option of observing or even joining the prayer if they choose.
- It is important to explain what the prayer entails, and provide a translation or alternately include a translation in the program brochure.
- Select the prayer leader who has beautiful recitation and advise him/her to limit the verses recited.
- Choose any reading material you distribute or make available to your guests carefully to be sure it is appropriate; if unsure, it is better not to distribute material.
- Material selected should not proselytize or disparage other faiths or beliefs. It should be basic and straightforward, without too many details.
- You may want to include evaluations of the event on the registration table as well, to get feedback from the audience. You may also include a sign-up sheet for people who are interested in being contacted for future events.
- Be sure to thank your guests and especially any speakers for their attendance, and you may even want to present your guest speakers from other faiths with a small gift that is appropriate.
We hope this guide is helpful in the planning of your interfaith event. If you have any feedback for us or modifications to suggest, please feel free to contact us at 408-296-7312 or write to ING’s Associate Director, Julie Laursen at [email protected]. Thank you.