Minnesota has long been a national leader in interfaith cooperation. A new nonprofit will be launched next week to strengthen ties even further.
The Minnesota Multi-faith Network will hold its kickoff event Monday night with a gathering of faith leaders — including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus — pledging to collaborate on education, outreach and advocacy across the state.
Hundreds of faith organizations are working on issues ranging from climate change to immigration to combating racism, organizers said. The network will be a place where they can find one another, join forces and make a stronger impact.
"We will have a website, newsletter, social media … to build communication about what's going on in Minnesota," said the Rev. Tom Duke, a leader in the St. Paul Interfaith Network and one of the new group's founders. "We want to build bridges."
The network is two years in the making. A steering committee of leaders from across faiths have grappled with the best way to build ties between fragmented groups that are spread from Grand Marais to Worthington.
Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker of Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul was a steering committee member. He said having one umbrella organization promoting interfaith activities will be helpful to state religious leaders.
"There are so many multifaith groups," Spilker said. "I've been trying to figure out where to put my efforts."
The network can provide a coordinated response to hate crimes and other timely issues, organizers said.
"We need to combat hate with love, which is very much part of the Minnesota fabric," Spilker said. "But we need coordination to make that happen."
The network hired J. Cody Nielsen as its first executive director earlier this year. Nielsen, founder of the national interfaith group Convergence, said groups working toward similar goals often don't know about one another and don't share training or seek shared funding. He hopes the new network can change that.
Nielsen's priorities include launching regional hubs across the state to connect local groups. He also wants to coordinate with university student organizations, such as the Muslim Students Association, as well as university professionals involved in interfaith and religious work.
He stressed that the network is unlikely to create its own projects, but to strengthen those that now exist. He envisions an annual conference and a robust website for connecting groups.
The network also has created a speakers bureau, Duke said, making it easier for schools, churches and other groups to offer education on lesser-known religions and to dispel myths.
Mary Pickard, a longtime leader in Minnesota's philanthropy community, also was on the network steering committee. For small nonprofits and faith groups, it's often difficult to carve out the time to collaborate with others because "it can be very labor-intensive," she said.
"But there might be a person in St. Cloud who has great ideas for counteracting hate who could be of interest to someone in Rochester," she said, adding that the new network could connect them.
Nielsen said if the network works as planned, Minnesota could become a national model for this type of collaboration.
"I see that as a larger possibility," Nielsen said. "And what better place than Minnesota, one of the most religious[ly] diverse states?"
The Minnesota Multi-faith Network kickoff will be held Monday at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Programming begins at 6:30 p.m.