The Interfaith Council of Dutchess County, New York celebrated its fortieth anniversary of faith and good deeds on August 23, 2012. The Gala Dinner celebrating the forty year legacy at Villa Borghese in Wappingers Falls, NY brought together many of the past presidents and board members as well as active members of the Council. Honorees were Rabbi Erwin Zimet, who served on the first Board of Directors, and his wife Lilli, the Reverend Hugh Miller, the Executive Director of the Dutchess County Council of Churches, and his wife Martha, who was the first Executive directory of the Duthcess County Interfaith Council, and Fr. Ernest Falardeau, SSS, first president of the DCIC. The guest speaker for the occasion was Imam Dr. Salahuddin M. Muhammad who is Senior Imam at Masjid Al Ikhlas (The Islamic Learning Center of Orange County), located in Newburgh, NY.
Rabbi Zimet, Rev. Hugh Miller and I served on the Planning Commission that explored the possibility of replacing the Dutchess County Council of Churches with the DCIC from 1970 through May 2, 1972 when the Interfaith Council was founded. It was one of the few interfaith councils in the United States. Taking the best features of the Council of Churches before its motion to adjourn “sine die” and from the five models of interfaith councils at various locations (town, city and county) the DCIC set out to bring people of faith and social awareness to work together with civic and private entities in solving some of the major problems since the 1970’s. Affordable housing for the aging was one of the earliest projects as well as participation in Crop Walk (a fund-raiser contributing to the World Church Service) for the hungry and homeless. Other programs included shared ministry at the County Correctional Center, Media (radio/TV), and ministry to singles. A Music Festival at the Vassar College Chapel provided a sharing of religious music in the Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Protestant traditions. This music festival also helped finance the work of the Interfaith Council.
Pope Paul VI in his first encyclical Ecclesiam Suam wrote extensively on the purposes of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. His remarks on dialogue are extensive and suggest the idea of three concentric circles, all contributing to better understanding and the realization religious collaboration. These three circles are first the outer circle of interfaith dialogue, including people of good will who work for the common good; the second circle is the Christian dialogue with other churches, and finally the inner circle of dialogue within the Catholic Church. Paul VI emphasizes that what we have in common, namely faith in God and respect for other human beings, can be the foundation for a common effort for peace and justice. Ecclesiam Suam describes the thrust of the Second Vatican Council and the pontificate of Paul VI. It also continues the vision of Pope John XXIII for a renewal of the Church in the modern world.
In my first report as president of the DCIC I was quoted as saying “Enthusiasm, hope and courage mark our humble beginnings. Noble deeds must chart our future history, if we are to long endure.” As a community of faith, hope and love, the Dutchess County Interfaith Council has produced many significant “noble deeds” during its forty years of ministry. Most importantly it has brought people of faith together as friends and collaborators in a common cause for a better community and for people in need.