Sunday, December 19, 2010

Interfaith Action Initiative considers headquarters space

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will meet on Friday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. (Use the Eagle Street entrance).

At this meeting we will decide whether to accept the generous offer of free use of an 800-square-foot storefront on Eagle Street. Several members of the Initiative toured the space during the Dec. 17 meeting. This storefront includes a bathroom, room for an office and space for storage.

In addition to giving the Initiative a visible presence downtown, the space may be suited to be a distribution hub — though not a storage facility or large-scale services center — for information, food, clothing, and other necessities. All this and more will be discussed at the January meeting.

Also at the January meeting, we will have a presentation of northern Berkshire asset maps by a representative of the Western Mass. Food Bank. This likely will give us a better idea of what needs such a space might help fill and how we could go about it.

By the end of January, the Initiative hopes to have given all northern Berkshire faith communities a chance to respond to our survey on what they are doing to meet basic human needs. We see definite trends in the nature of assistance in our preliminary results, and likely will make our final findings public in early February.

Our talks about providing volunteer assistance for clients of Louison House have moved forward, and a report on this will be on the Jan. 21 meeting agenda.

At our Dec. 17 meetng, we heard from the Rev. Peter Elvin, of St. John’s Church in Williamstown, about the voucher system for people in need which had worked well in that community, but which will stop as the Williamstown Ecumenical Association ceases. Discussing the possibility of continuinig this system on a wider scale will be on the agenda for the Jan. 21 Initiative meeting.

All are welcome to participate in the Initiative. To get on the Initiative’s e-mail announcement list, send an e-mail to or call Mark at 664-0130. To learn more about the Initiative, visit our blog at

Monday, December 13, 2010

Opportunities Knock

The Dec. 17 meeting will be important. We have some exciting news. There is a possibility that we will get the use of storefront in North Adams. This will be a main item on our agenda. The person who made the offer has expressed interest in this Interfaith effort from the start and will attend the meeting. We likely will take a brief “field trip” to see the space.

On Monday I saw this 800-square-foot-space, with restroom, space for an office and ample storage space and am quite impressed with it.

As for the survey of what local faith communities are doing to meet basic human needs, an analysis of the results so far of our survey reveals several interesting patterns that show more exciting opportunities. For instance, some of the churches we have surveyed have food pantries from which they distribute food on a periodic basis. Two we have surveyed so far actually make trips to the Western Massachusetts Food Bank to pick up food to distribute. While great, these efforts are not coordinated with each other and could be expanded beyond once a month.

At last Friday's meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (NBCC), a representative of the Western Mass Food Bank expressed interest in working with us on distributing their food through faith communities.

So there is an opportunity for us to be instrumental in widening the availabllity of food through faith communities in Northern Berkshire. The space we will visit could play a part. Many churches in Northern Berkshire already collatorate in the Take and Eat program, delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly, the ill and shut-ins on weekends and holidays. I participate through the St. Anthony Kitchen at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in North Adams. This new opportunity could allow us to make more food available to families and those who do not receive Meals on Wheels.

I think to be most effective in establising what we can do on food distribution — and other areas such as providing clothing — we should try to wrap up our faith community survey by the end of January. We already have a great start. I hope on Friday to provide a list of communities we have not yet connected with. I think we should give every faith community the opportunity to comment on our survey.

When we have gathered as much information from faith communities as we can, then we can summarize and publicize our findings. I have already produced a three-page informal summary that I used as notes for the Dec. 10 meeting, which I would be happy to share with anyone interested. So producing an analysis we can publicize when our survey is complete should not take long. I will bring my preliminary summary to Friday’s meeting.

I think a positive result of our effort so far has been more of a place at the table for the faith perspective: at the North Adams downtown celebration, at the Coalition discussion of the tattered social services safety net and, upcoming, the new Systems of Care effort that the NBCC is helping start, which I mentioned in the last post. The invitation I received for this mentioned that they wanted to have the faith community represented. With clergy being stretched enough as it is, the existence of the Interfaith Action Initiative allows for greater faith representation at various community efforts and discussions.

I mentioned in the last post the end of the Williamstown Ecumenical Association and the end of its voucher system. It was suggested to me by Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser that we invite someone with knowledge of the voucher program, such as the Rev. Peter Elvin, of St. John's Episcopal in Williamstown. I think this would be a good idea, especially as the nature of this voucher program will necessitate strong clergy involvement if it continues.

I also think we should consider inviting someone from the Western Mass Food Bank, since they are interested in our effort, and from Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, which runs a food and fuel fund and a free medical clinic in Bennington.

Also, we should consider going to Pittsfield for a meeting of Co-Act, which is involved in interfaith service (one of their members has came to our last meeting); and perhaps visiting Brattleboro, where there is a strong interfaith effort.

There are a couple of exciting upcoming events to mention. MLK Day in January, which will once again be a community service day. And the North County Christmas Concert willl be held at First Congregational Church in North Adams (at Monument Square) on Sunday. Dec. 19, at 4 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the St. Anthony and St. Vincent de Paul Kitchens (part of Take and Eat program) and the Berkshire Food Project.

Well, there's a lot going on to think — and pray — about.

As always feel free to comment. I hope to see you Friday.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Interesting Happenings, Exciting Opportunities

Interesting happenings, exciting opportunities

Our Nov. 19 meeting was interesting. Though several of our regular attendees could not be present because of the funeral of Edna Rudnick, who worked very hard for our community in many ways during her long life, we still had more than 10 people in attendence.

(Our next meeting will be held at the First Baptist Church in North Adams at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 17. Use Eagle Street entrance.)

At the last meeting, I gave an update on the status of our survey of what area houses of worship are doing to meet basic human needs. As of this writing, Wednesday, Dec. 8, we have results back from 12 Northern Berkshire houses of worship, 14 if you count churches in different communities that have joined together.

Obviously we still have a lot to do, and I hope that after the new year we will have a surge of activity to get this effort completed and published.

Which brings me to an important point. This Friday, Dec. 10, at 10 a.m., at the First Baptist Church in North Adams, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition will hold a discussion on repairing our fraying social safety net as part of its monthly forum. I would encourage all who are involved with the Interfaith effort to attend.

I participated in two planning meetings for this meeting, and what faith communities are doing and can do to meet basic human needs in our community will be a part of this forum, along with a large contribution to the discussion by Community Action, among others.

I know that heating assistance is going to be a major need this winter, and there are many others.

Getting back to the Nov. 19 meeting, Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser noted that the Williamstown Ecumenical Association has disbanded. They had a sort of group voucher system that was coordinated among the churches and helped people in need. It was thought this could be something our group could possibly continue and expand.

It is worth considering, though I think that there would have to be a strong clergy component, because this is something that would usually or often be coordinated by church/synagogue office secretaries, as calls from those in need would likely go directly to a house of worship. I know that people at times would/will show up at the office and rectories of the Catholic Churches looking for help.

Which brings me to a comment I have heard a couple of times recently: That many people just won’t go to churches to seek help. It wasn’t explained to me why, though I can make some guesses. I suppose some people might expect a judgemental attitude and perhaps attempts to be converted. Speaking for faith-based efforts I have been involved in around here, that isn’t so. But it’s worth keeping in mind as we move forward.

Also Nov. 19, our faith sharing component evolved into a political discussion. It was interesting. Also on Nov. 19, I shared my late grandfather’s French-language prayer book he was given at his first Communion in 1912. Priscilla Northrup shared her thoughts on the expression: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”

Anyone with a faith or spirituality-related thought or inspiration or item of interest for the December meeting is encouraged to share.

In addition to moving ahead with our survey, and considering the voucher system idea, we need to continue our exploration of cooperating and assisting area agencies. And discuss the nature of this assistance. My preference remains not to tie ourself to one or two agencies, serving as a kind of fundraising arm. Rather I would see us providing volunteers for special tasks, encouraging wider volunteerism in the community, and possibly sponsoring one-and-off fundraising events.

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I should also note that the new Systems of Care effort is looking for the participation of members of the faith community. I have said I will participate. There will be a meeting in January. I do not have the time here to explain what this is about (and I need to learn more myself) but I hope to get into more detail in a future blog post.

As always, feel free to comment on this blog. Or contact me at or or at 664-0130 (please leave a message if I’m not there).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Moving forward in several areas

The Nothern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative made progress in several areas at its Oct. 15 meeting.

For one, we are proceeding with a survey of faith communities in Northern Berkshire to determine what services they provide to meet basic human needs, and we already have the results from several churches surveyed by our members.

We hope that compiling this information will help make these services better known, perhaps inspire faith communities or others to fill in gaps in available services, and also promote awareness of the Interfaith Action Initiative.

Though for the sake of moving ahead on the survey I did not contact those members of the Initiative who were not present at the October meeting, they are welcome to participate. We still have numerous faith communities that no one has yet been assigned to survey. So let us know if you wish to help with this.

In our efforts to explore needs in our community and find agencies to help, we now have a committee exploring the possibility of setting up mentoring relationships with clients of Louison House.

Nothing has been determined yet, but this is an exciting step in our effort to find ways to make a difference at a time of growing need. Our effort to explore community needs and find ways to help will continue. I can think of other agencies we might also have cooperative efforts with, including those we have spoken with at our meeting, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Berkshire Food project, among others.

Also at the Oct. 15 meeting, those present voted unanimously to oppose Massachusetts ballot Questions 1, 2 and 3. We composed and sent out a letter to the editor publicly stating our opposition to these questions. Though I do not think the letter made it into print before the election, at least we took a stand.

In addition to community service, the Initiative aims to promote interfaith understanding. To this end, the silent prayer and faith sharing portion of our meetings has really taken off, with people putting their all into meaningful presentations. For our November meeting, everyone is invited to bring something meaningful to share — but if you don’t, that’s fine, too. Just come to the meeting.

(Myself, I think I will give a very brief biography of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, as that is the new name of my church!)

For more information, e-mail, call Mark at 664-0130 or visit


Here’s the letter to the editor about the Mass. ballot questions:

To the Editor:

The Nothern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative — a group of people

of various faiths seeking to serve the community — voted at its Oct.

15 meeting to express opposition to the three initiatives on the Nov.

2 ballot in Massachusetts.

We urge a “no” vote on Question 1, which would remove the 6.25 percent

sales tax on alcoholic beverages and alcohol. This measure, largely

supported by package stores and beer distributors, would take away

state money for drug and alcohol treatment for more than 100,000 state

residents. Nearly every state has in place a sales tax on alcohol in

addition to excise taxes. With a large state budget deficit looming, a

special exemption for alcohol makes no sense.

We also urge a “no” vote on Question 2. This question would repeal the

state law dating from 1969 meant to facilitate low- or moderate-

income housing by streamlining the permitting process for such

housing. The law has resulted in 58,000 homes across the state.

Question 2 would leave Massachusetts without an affordable housing

law. Dozens of individual clergy members across the state have come

out against Question 2, as have the Massachusetts Association of

Jewish Federations and the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.

We also urge a “no” Vote on Question 3, which would reduce the state

sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. This irresponsible proposal

would take away $2.5 billion in state revenue at a time when local aid

has already been cut by 25 percent in the last two years. This would

mean less money for schools, parks, roads, youth programs and services

to seniors.

On behalf of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative

Corrine Case (Adams)

Mark Lincourt (North Adams)

Sally Sussman (Williamstown)

Al Nelson (Clarksburg)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Learning As We Go



The meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative on Friday, Sept. 24, may have had the most lively discussion yet. This was our first meeting to have an actual printed agenda and to use the visual aid of major points written on an easel during the discussion. We did not get through the whole agenda, but did discuss several possible short-term events.

The item which seemed to take the most discussion was to have an interfaith Thanksgiving service, which would include some type of interfaith worship element. It became apparent that a wide variety of views existed about this. I may be summarizing this imperfectly, but from our discussion and my discussion later with one or two others, I offer this as a summary of views among those present: 1). The desire for a traditional interfaith service with clergy leading the prayers. 2). The stongly held opinion that Interfaith worship services are awkward and ineffective. 3). The desire to have a Thanksgiving peace service, such as was held locally last year. 4). There were also those present, of which I was one, that felt that interfaith worship services can be effective and were also open to flexibility in the type of event we would hold.

However, on reflection and prayer, and discussion with Al Nelson, I decided that there was too much diversity of opinion, with people not willing to participate in events they weren't enthusiastic about. We also felt that there is not enough time to effectively plan such an event.

On a larger level, our overall discussion, which was frank and enjoyable, makes me think that we should concentrate our efforts for now on Interfaith Action (service) to benefit our community. This doesn’t rule possible interfaith involvement in the annual Martin Luther King observance to remind people of his religious motivation. Al Nelson would also like to discuss whether the overall group would accept interfaith events under our umbrella which would be held by a certain faith — obviously this would apply to ALL the faith groups which have membership in our group. Such events would be held in a certain tradition, but obviously everyone would be welcome.


As for Interfaith interaction on the faith-sharing level — our silent prayer and faith-sharing time at the beginning of our monthly meetings — this seems to be well-received.

Al Nelson handled this very well for our first few meetings. I did the honors at the Sept. 24 meeting, and Sue Walker will lead our faith sharing at our Oct. 15 meeting. (Personally, I put everything I had into my presentation, and enjoyed doing so). I hope that in the months ahead, many more of our members will share from their faith traditions and/or personal convictions.


One of the short-term items we discussed was to directly survey the faith communities in Northern Berskhire and find out and compile what types of services and support for basic human needs they offer. This idea was suggested by Al Bashevkin. Sister Natalie Cain, who was present at the meeting, had conducted such a survey in the past when she worked for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and we now have the information she gathered.

In addition to compiling this information for the Coalition to help those who are increasingly coming to its office with immediate needs, reaching out to ALL of our faith communities to complie this information would help make us better known.

This will be an agenda item at our Oct. 15 meeting. It seems a relatively easy way to compile information which potentially would be useful to many in helping those in need.

Compiling this information could be divided among us. Some could just find out about their faith community; others could pick a group of churches/other faith communities or a town. In this way, we could quickly gather the information. I imagine we could come up with a concise form to be used in gathering this information from the faith communities.

Presenting this in-person, if possible, would be a good way to also promote our Interfaith effort as we gather information. We could possibly come up with a one-page explanation what we're about, such as we had at the NA Downtown Celebration and give it out on our visit.

When we do have an up-to-date idea of what our Northern Berkshire faith communities offer for those in need, then we could perhaps send out a press release informing people of all that faith communities do for those in need and perhaps inspire some to help fill in gaps. Again, this would be a good way to make our efforts better-known.


We did not get to discuss the adoption of a community agency at our Sept. 24 meeting, so discussing this will be a priority at our Oct. 15 meeting. Right now, Louison House and the Family Life Support Center are in the mix, as is Big Brothers and Big Sisters. We could provide both fundraising and direct, hands-on support. I’d like to make a decision on this soon, perhaps with an ad hoc committee started to get things going with the chosen organization.

I don't want to short-change other parts of our discussion on Sept. 24. We also discussed the shortage of clergy to make hospital visits and how one faith community will know whether or not someone passing through had already gotten help at another faith community in town. And I may be forgetting something.

I hope to have an agenda for the Oct. 15 meeting ready to give out at the meeting.


I do not want to continuously send things from our Interfaith group to people’s e-mail inboxes so that they either get irritated with us or tune out everything we send. So from now on I will be putting announcements people want to get out there on this blog. Those who want to send announcements directly to those on our e-mail list may go ahead — that’s why I don’t hide recipients when I send out Interfaith e-mails.

Here are some upcoming events:

• The postponed discussion of the “Crucified Stuffed Bunny” painting has been rescheduled to Friday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the gallery just east of the Mohawk Theater.

• A Celebration of Catholic Native America will be held at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. on Saturday, Oct. 16, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This event is free for the whole family. Eden Hill is a beautiful place with a beautiful shrine.

• Also, this came in from Robin Lehleitner about an interesting event in Williamstown.

This fall the First Congregational Church of Williamstown (906 Main St) will initiate a new Sunday morning pre-service program called “Forum on Contemporary Issues in Religion.” The specific aim of the Forum is to engage a group of Williams faculty in a discussion of the implications of their academic research for the working out of religious thought in their own lives. The program will occur monthly, beginning on October 17th, and be held in the Fellowship Hall starting at 9:30 a.m., with coffee and tea available from 9:15 on. After a period of dialogue between the interviewer and the morning speaker, the discussion will be opened to the audience. Each program will conclude at 10:20 so as not to conflict with the morning service beginning at 10:30.

The first person to be interviewed in this series will be Dr. Magnus Bernhardsson, a member of the History Dept at Williams. The focus of the interview will be around the unfolding encounter of Christianity and Islam in the modern era. Dr. Bernhardsson holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History from Yale University, a Masters of Arts and Religion degree from Yale Divinity School, with a focus on Comparative Religion, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Iceland, with a dual concentration in political science and theology.

Speakers for the following months include Stuart Crampton, Emeritus in Physics, who will speak on “Physics and the Idea of God" on Sunday, Nov. 21st; and Denise Buell, professor of Religion, who on December 12th will speak on “Historical Research and the Identity of Jesus." The interviewer for this series is Dr. Charles Fox, who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Harvard University and is an emeritus professor from Empire State College of the State University of New York in Albany, where he taught in the areas of philosophy and religious studies.

Thanks and God Bless,


As always, feel free to comment. I have a thick hide.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blog Address Corrected

I discovered yesterday, Oct. 4, when sending out announcements to church and other faith community bulletins of our next meeting, that the URL address to this blog was incorrect, missing the first "r" in "berkshire." Fortunately, the blog program makes it easy to change the URL.

This explains why at least one person told me he had a hard time accessing the blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fun and Work

Friends! Thanks to Otha Day and a handful of volunteers, our Interfaith Drumming Circle at the North Adams Downtown Celebration on August 25 was a great success, raising awareness and getting several new people on our e-mail list. Plus, it was just plain fun. See photos below by Gail Obrest and Mark Rondeau.

The next meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, Sept. 24, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in North Adams. (Use Eagle Street entrance). We will be making some concrete decisions on activities, both long- and short-term. All are welcome.

For more information, post your question here or e-mail or call Mark at 664-0130.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pressing Ahead in Hope

At the Aug. 6 special meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative, six of us discussed preparations for our Drumming Circle outreach at the North Adams Downtown Celebration on Wednesday, Aug. 25.

Otha Day has generously offered to lead this circle, and we discussed with him the help he will need. We also reviewed a proposed flyer to be handed out to people and discussed having a sign-up sheet at the event.

We do not know yet where in the downtown we will be situated. Otha said a 20 x 20-foot space would be appropriate. We would need four or five volunteers to help out, one, for instance to keep an eye on the instruments. Another to hand out our flyer and one or two others to sign people up who are interested in our effort.

We will also need about 25 folding chairs and a table for a volunteer or two to sit at to sign up those interested in our Interfaith effort.

We hope to have the drumming circle last about an hour and a half, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Al Nelson had the good idea of having our volunteers wear name tags with their church affiliation.

I hope to come up with one or two signs. They won’t necessarily be pretty but they will show what the name of our effort is and how to reach us. (Which, of course, will also be on the flyer).

I would encourage people to volunteer. Due to working evenings and personal obligations, I may not be able to attend the event, though I will be helping to make sure that it comes together.


We will have another chance to make sure things are in order for the Drumming Circle at our next regular meeting, which will be held on Friday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in North Adams.

At this meeting we will continue our discussion of local needs with Valerie Schwartz of the Berkshire Food Project and also hear from a representative of the Louison House in Adams.

Before we begin, we will hold a moment of silent prayer as we did at our last regular meeting. I hope we can begin rotating leadership of our faith sharing time or spiritual reflection at the start of our meetings (about 10 minutes) among our members. At the next meeting, I will offer a brief reflection after our moment of silence and then we can perhaps spend a few minutes in discussion.


At our Aug. 6 special meeting, in addition to discussing the Drumming Circle, we also discussed possible future ideas, particularly more short-term projects as we discern a longer-term effort that provides service to our community without duplicating existing services.

Among the ideas we batted around:


• Holding a fundraiser to help shore up an existing agency in these times of very tight funding. I like the idea of a fundraising walk from North Adams to Williamstown, as has happened in the past. Or perhaps in Adams. (Which, by the way, is a need of ours, to get Adams people involved in our Initiative.

• Holding an interfaith Thanksgiving service. Gratitude is a fundamental element of many/most/all faiths.

• Working on the Interfaith aspect of MLK Day, with of course the MLK Committee, which does include such a component each year.

• Perhaps doing an outreach effort to the homeless.

• Holding a Sunday afternoon day of service. Perhaps finding an organization that needs some maintenance help or painting, etc.

• And let’s keep in mind youth. I learned in the last few days about an initiative to build a skateboard park in North Adams. They are seeking a large grant and will need people to vote online throughout September to win it.


• Working with students of the local colleges, in particular the Williams Catalyst group, on the idea of a community resource center. We may want to invite them to an upcoming meeting.

• The eventual creation of an interfaith service award to a local hero particularly motivated by faith. (I have thought about naming it after someone well-known in our area, but I won’t give the name here. Talk to me in person if you would like to brainstorm about it).


I would encourage people to offer ideas on this blog. I’m beginning to feel like a soloist. But it seems important to keep a running record of our efforts to keep people informed and for new people to tap into should they discover what’s we’re up to.

Facebook pages are great for certain purposes, but I think a running commentary on what we’re doing better serves our Initiative at this point.

If you prefer to express yourself in person, come to our next meeting — and bring a friend. If you need to arrive late or leave early, that’s fine — just stop in and see what we’re about.

God Bless All of You

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Feeling the Rhythm

Despite the heat — and it being the heart of vacation season, the July 16 meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfatih Action Initiative drew 17 people. Those of us left at the end participated in a lively drumming circle facilitated by Otha Day.

We will have a special planning meeting Aug. 6 and our next regular meeting will be Aug. 20. See below for details.

We heard from Sarah Kline, head of the Northern Berkshire office of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berkshire County, and Sr. Natalie Cain, who is a Big Sister. Though we ran somewhat short of time, we also heard from Valerie Schultz, who heads the Berkshire Food Project, which provides lunches in North Adams for the poor.

The upshot of our discussions is that there are intense needs in our community for such tasks as mentoring disadvantaged children but not enough financial resources in these hard times to meet them. More mentors for boys and girls are always needed but the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization is about at capacity right now in the number of “matches” between children and adults it can organize and supervise.

Those present asked Sarah how we could help. The consensus seemed to be that we could rasie awareness of the need for mentoring and resources to support it.

Though our conversation with Val was cut short, we learned that there is need for space in the city for a food pantry to locate. They have the food, just need a place to put it. We also learned that there are homeless people in our community, people who spend their nights outside. Our local capacity to house the homeless seems to be fraying.

Valerie Schwartz, invited back, and others who deal with the poor and marginalized will be the main topic on our agenda at our next regular meeting, on Friday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Cburch in North Adams.

Because several people had to leave at noon at our Aug. 16 meeting, we have decided to return our starting time back to 10 a.m.

Indeed, at our Aug. 16 meeting, only a handful of us were left after the clock hit noon to enjoy our drumming session with Otha Day. All 7 or 8 of us who participated enjoyed it immensely. This is important, because our first outreach effort will consist of a drumming circle, as this announcement states:

“A special meeting of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, Aug. 6, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams (use the Eagle Street entrance).

“The purpose will be to prepare for the intitiative’s outreach effort at the North Adams Downtown Celebration on Wednesday, Aug. 25. We will be making plans with local musician Otha Day, a member of the Interfaith initiative, for a drumming circle at this event.

“The drumming circle will be the first outreach effort of the initiative. We hope to have an informational handout about the interfaith initiative available to give people at the Fowntown Celebration and also a sign-up sheet for those interested in our work. Volunteers will be needed to help Otha transport and set up his equipment, distribute our flyer and handle the sign-up sheet.

“The next regular meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative will be held on Friday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Cburch in North Adams. We wil continue our discussion with those serving the needs of the poor and marginalized.

“The Initiative, which was launched earlier this summer, invites followers of all faiths and all people of goodwill to participate.

For more information, For more information, e-mail or call 663-7588.”


After three meetings, I see much potential in this interfaith effort. I could, and maybe will, come up with a list of the score of possible ideas for action that have come up so far.

I also have other ideas. Our discernment process continues, but our first public activity will be held at the North Adams Downtown Celebration next month.

I would encourage people to offer ideas here — or come to our next meetings — and bring a friend. If you need to arrive late or leave early, that’s fine — just stop in and see what we’re about.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Our Second Meeting - Great Ideas

Our Second Meeting

Friends, below is the article I wrote for the July edition of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition newsletter about the June meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative:

The Interfaith Action Initiative has held two well-attended and dynamic meetings, and participants are discerning long-term community needs they may fill.

The next meeting of the initiative will be held on Friday, July 15, at 10:30 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in North Adams. (Use the Eagle Street entrance).

In addition, the Initiative is planniing to present a drumming circle, led by local musician Otha Day at the North Adams Downtown Celebration on Wednesday, Aug. 25. This will be an outreach effort and information about the Initiative will be available.

At the June 18 meeting of the Initiative, the discussion centered around community needs we possibly could fill. These included findiing a centralized space available one or two days a week for the work of the Family Life Support Center.

Another possible area for service would be youth mentoring. Work with, or along the lines of, Big Brothers Big Sisters was discussed. One meeting participant suggested mentoring gay and lesbian youth, as they often feel particularly isolated and alone; this person also mentioned that there’s a need for mentoring of youth between the ages of 18 to 23 or so.

A third possible area would be provision of emergency housing for those men and women who cannot fit in at the Lousion House in Adams. These would be people on the fringe of our community, possibly recently released from incarceration. One participant asked whether an intermediate step could be creation of a kind of “social services hub” at a fixed location to help such people.

We also discussed the role of silent prayer and possibly faith sharing at our meetings.

At our July 15 meeting we will discuss our plans for the Downtown Celebration and each of the above service possibilities in more detail. Everyone is welcome to attend and bring their ideas.

The Interfaith Action Initiative grew out of the April forum of the Northern Berkshire Communiity Coalition, at which those present discussed the intersection of faith and community issues. All people of good will are welcome to participate in the Initiative.

For more information, e-mail; visit or call the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at 663-7588.


In this more expansive blog forum format, a number of further items are worth noting and/or discussing. Basically this blog is sort of like meeting minutes, with some opinion thrown in. So if I leave something important out, or you disagree, please feel free to comment.

Check out Otha Day’s Website,

Where are the Adams people? And people from the hilltowns? Hopefully some from these places will become involved as the initiative moves forward.

Thanks to Denise Vigna for attending the June 18 meeting and inviting everyone to participate in the efforts of the local conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, located at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in North Adams. This conference does fine work helping people whose needs cannot always be met, or met quickly, by local service agencies. The phone number of the conference is 664-4835.

Thanks to Dave Babcock, a member of First Baptist Church in North Adams, for suggesting the possibility that faith communiities could fill in the gaps for the meals program headquartered on River Street in North Adams. He also spoke of First Baptist's outreach called Faith in Action, held twice a year, where participants go out on a Sunday and do service.

Thanks to Robin Lehleitner for her insightful ideas on how we might serve young people and for her mentioning the possibility of working with the Catalyst group at Williams College, which has tried to run a sort of social services hub in North Adams called “4th Monday.”

Thanks to Susan Jameson, of Lanesborough, for telling us about the World Prayer Day Interfaith Prayer and Peace Pot Luck Dinner that was held at her farm on June 21. I was not able to get this entry done in time to announce it ahead of time, but for more information about the intefaith work Susan is involved in, e-mail or visit

Thanks to Judy Grinnell for reminding us about the important Community Conversation about the future of the Hoosic River, which will be held at St. Elizabeth’s Parish Center in North Adams from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 26. Visit

And, of course, thanks to everyone who has attended our two meetings so far. It is exciting to see what great people we have and what exciting ideas we are putting forward.

Don’t hesitate to comment on this blog entry. Become a “follower” of this blog so you’ll know when people post on it. Bring a friend to our next meeting which, again, will be held on Friday, July 15, at 10:30 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in North Adams. (Use the Eagle Street entrance).


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Our First Meeting

The first meeting of the Interfaith Action Initiative for Northern Berkshire County drew 21 people at the First Baptist Church on Friday, May 21.

The next meeting will be held on Friday, June 18, at 10 a.m., again at the First Baptist Church.

People from a variety of Christian denominations, Jewish people, a man from the Sufi branch of Islam and others with no formal relgiious affiliation attended. Two memembers of the clergy attended, Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser and the Rev. Ed King.

There was a powerful feeling of energy in the room as people from the Northern Berkshires discussed the reason or reasons why they came to the meeting.

Some had seen successful ecumenical or interfaith groups work in other areas. One person, for instance, pointed to the success of the interfaith group for the Bennington area in Vermont, with its Food and Fuel Fund and Free Clinic providing medical care to those without insurance. Others spoke of an active group in Pittsfield.

Ideas discussed included working with youth, finding and filling community needs otherwise not being met, working to create jobs, working on the transition towns initiative. The possibility of having a drumming circle and information about the Interfaith Initiative at the North Adams Downtown Celebration in August also was discussed. We also discussed such activities as watchiing a relevant film and inviting speakers from successful interfaith groups.

Al Bashevkin noted the energy in the room and said that those present came because they want to be part of a group of people who want to do things together. As people wrestled with ideas, Al noted the tension that can arise between process and product.

Currently there are two efforts in which people of different faiths and denominations cooperate together in the Northern Berkshires: the annual CROP Walk and the Take and Eat program in which individual congregations fill in some of the gaps in the Meals on Wheels program.

The idea for an Interfaith Action Initiative arose from the April meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. While clergy in the Northern Berkshires revitalize their association, the idea of laypeople joining together themselves in an active association for community betterment arose.

The Interfaith Action Initiative is open to everyone of all faiths, lay people, clergy and people of goodwill with no formal religious affiliation.

At the June 18 meeting, we will begin to prioritize the needs we can possibily meet, look toward an event we can put together in the near future, discuss the role of prayer and religious sharing within the Intiative and more.

Please attend and invite friends, fellow parishioners or congregations and anyone you know may be interested to attend.

And, as this is a blog, feel free to post ideas.

— Mark Rondeau