Editor’s note: Following is the first in a series on the Inter-Faith Bridging Project, launched this fall by Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society.
With funding from Embrace BC, Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society (VDISS) launched the Inter-Faith Bridging Project in Vernon this September. This project was introduced in the Oct. 26 issue of The Morning Star in the article headlined “Project aims to develop friendships, dialogue.” In this article Maytée Ferrigno, from Immigrant Services, gives an overview of the project and explains how the project is about opening dialogue from one faith to another.
This project is also opening new doors, both literally and figuratively, as people from different faiths are working together. As coordinator of the project, I had the privilege of opening one of the first doors. I must confess I stood somewhat hesitantly at that first door. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder what was I doing? Was I up to this? My greying hair clearly showed I was nearing three score and ten and my arthritic hands often made door opening difficult so you can imagine my delight when this first door at Immigrant Services opened easily. As I stepped through I met the Steering Committee for Vernon’s Inter-Faith Bridging Project for the first time. It was like stepping into a time warp. People, who had been part of my life as far back as the mid-’70s, when we had English classes for new Canadians at Vernon’s First Baptist Church, were there to greet me. Carol, now the director of VDISS, was a long-ago teaching partner; Harpal, who had come to our classes as a new bride in 1978, was waiting expectantly; a granddaughter of one of my favourite people from Pakistan was in the group and Alan, a Global Education teacher, reminded me that his mother had been part of our early ESL teaching group. As well, the room was filled with people, from different faiths, different cultures and of different ages whom I had yet to meet. Maytée, who recently told her story to The Morning Star, was welcoming and greeting everyone. And I was to lead this group? Where to start?
As I began that first meeting, the energy in the room amazed me. People expressed their ideas and suggestions about the Inter-Faith Bridging project with great enthusiasm but never with rancor. Several times as I stood in front of this group and listened to their back-and-forth conversations, I’d wonder, who really is in charge here? Occasionally I’d get a word in, but the participants set the tone of the meeting. Throughout the meeting, more and more possible doors to open were explored and ways to open these doors discussed. Doors that opened into new understandings, dispelling myths, forging new friendships and relationships, fostering respectful conversations to bring peace and hope and new ways to help Vernon to become an even more welcoming community were priority doors. Opening this first door was unleashing untapped energy to tackle doors that too often are shut tight and appear impossible to open. Who would have dreamed all of this could be possible?
The steering committee is now leading this project and as they continue to open new doors, stories about real people and their faiths will be told and activities planned, which the community is invited to join. In January, there will be round table forums; in February, art workshops; and in March, a Spring Fair and Gala event. Specifics of these events will be advertised in the next few weeks. For more information, contact Maytée Ferrigno at 250-542-4612 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or Nola Dibski at email@example.com
Nola Dibski is coordinator of the Inter-Faith Bridging Project in Vernon.