SPIN COMMENTARY

On this page SPIN will occasionally offer comments of concern for the interfaith community and for the world based on issues and events about which there is a consensus that a word should be said.  SPIN does not normally make statements in the name of SPIN advocating positions on controversial issues.

SPIN CONGRATULATES THE CITY OF EDINA, MINNESOTA and we encourage other cities to do the same!!

ACT OF FAITH: EDINA ADDS DATES TO NO-MEETINGS LIST
Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune - April 4, 2012

Don't expect to hear about any City Council meetings in Edina on the Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha or the Hindu holiday of Diwali.

Diversity might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Edina, but the suburb is leading the way when it comes to acknowledging religious holidays. The city recently added 11 days of Jewish, Islamic and Hindu holidays to the list of dates on which the city will not hold regular public meetings.

The nod to the city's growing diversity, which forbids all but special and emergency meetings on those days, might be the most far-reaching religious observance policy of any city in the state.

"The face of Edina is constantly changing," Mayor Jim Hovland said at the March council meeting where the policy was unanimously approved. "We can do it this year and see how it works out."

When Edina officials checked with Minneapolis, St. Paul and 12 Twin Cities suburbs, it found that only St. Louis Park had a formal policy dictating no meetings on non-federal holidays -- in that city's case, on three Jewish holidays.

The city of Minneapolis lists many Jewish and three Islamic holidays among "significant dates" on which it tries not to schedule meetings, but the policy is informal.

Designations welcomed

 

Vamsi Kanduri, a priest at Sri Venkateswara Temple in Edina, is delighted that one of the holidays on Edina's list is Diwali, a Hindu holiday known as the festival of lights, which is marked in the fall.

"That's really awesome," he said. "That means American culture is really considerate of other cultures, they try to understand and want them to celebrate. It really helps us at the temple."

Also on the no-meeting day list are the Islamic holidays Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice.

Zafar Siddiqui, interfaith and civic relations director for the Islamic Resource Group, Minnesota, said he deeply appreciated Edina's move, calling it "a step toward inclusion" for the state's tens of thousands of Muslims, most of whom live in the Twin Cities.

The city's initiative has its roots in a resolution brought last spring by the League of Women Voters-Edina. The city's Human Rights and Relations Commission also was involved in the discussion.

"We have a number of different faiths in our community, and those citizens should have an expectation to be able to attend meetings that affect them and that are not on major religious holidays," said league President Suzanne Kerwin. "We wouldn't expect a meeting to be held on Christmas or Christmas Eve."

Kerwin said the aim was to have the city avoid meetings on "significant holidays" that have work restrictions or are very sacred. Diwali, for example, lasts for several days, but this year the main festival day, which is marked with fireworks, the lighting of lamps and meals with family and friends, falls on Nov. 13.

Policy is flexible

Edina City Council members unanimously supported the policy when it was discussed last month, but they left open the possibility for change.

"As schedules are built, we may have requests on an observance or holiday that we did not even anticipate," said Mary Brindle. "It's kind of a live list."

Josh Sprague said he favored a permissive rather than exclusionary policy, and wondered whether the city would be better off making a "best effort" to avoid major holidays, as the city has done in the past. That might allow more flexibility, he said.

"I think our civic duty to provide an efficient government process comes first in our hierarchy of needs," he said.

Ann Swenson countered that the policy allowed an exception for emergency meetings. "I don't think we're adding that many days. ... I'm comfortable adopting this," she said.

City Manager Scott Neal told the council that he thought the city could work within the policy.

"We may have more dates on the calendar that may have competing public meetings on them, but it won't happen often," he said.

Changing population

Karen Kurt, the assistant city manager who researched the new policy, said the city couldn't find a statistical way to track religious preferences in Edina, but the city knows it has increasing numbers of Hindu and Muslim residents. The Sri Venkateswara Temple moved to Edina from Golden Valley last year, and has more than 1,000 members. It has links to some Edina city events posted on its website.

Kurt said that when the city checked meeting dates with the new policy, there were three out of 120 meetings this year that will have to moved -- not as many, she said, as expected.

Also on the Edina's list of no-meeting religious days are Good Friday, Christmas Eve, the evening before and the day of Yom Kippur, the evening before and the two days of Rosh Hashanah, and the evening before and the first two days of Passover.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

NO-MEETING DAYS FOR CITY OF EDINA

Christian holidays: Christmas, Christmas Eve, Good Friday

Jewish holidays: The evening before and the day of Yom Kippur, the evening before and two days of both Rosh Hashanah and Passover

Islamic holidays: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha

Hindu holidays: Diwali

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A CONTEXT FOR SPIN’S WORK - THOUGHTS FROM PAUL TIDEMANN

February 6, 2012

This is the seventh year of the work of the Saint Paul Interfaith Network. In my experience, interfaith or interreligious cooperation and understanding has been a long time in emerging. In my childhood, not only was there very little interfaith understanding, but there was little ecumenical Christian understanding. Lutherans and Catholics were often at loggerheads, disavowing the value or truth of each other’s teaching and worship. We are also aware that on an interfaith level relationships between Christians and Jews was a problem which came to be seen, on the Christian side, as anti-semitism. Anti-semitism was also a broader issue in society as a whole, not just in religious circles and as we know this gave rise to the horror of the Holocaust. It is only in the last few years that Muslim people and Muslim religion have been valued and understood. Yet we are a long way from full understanding of Islam in society as a whole and in religious circles. We are also still learning about the gifts and value of Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, Native and other religions and peoples.

 

The Saint Paul Interfaith Network, since its first Fall Dialogue Series in 2006, has been in the process of building greater understanding and appreciation of all religious traditions and people. In our SPIN description we say that we are about the work of strengthening a culture of engaged interfaith dialogue in the St. Paul area. There are four primary areas of focus for how we have been doing this.

1. One is our Fall Dialogue Series that takes place in October or November for four or five evenings to discuss issues of need or interest as regards interfaith understanding. Our most recent series last October was a series entitled "Eyes Wide Open: A Conversation about Racism, Discrimination, Prejudice and Meeting the Other." It consisted of four Monday evenings for over 2 hours each with panelists making presentations and small facilitated groups discussing key questions.

2. Another key focus for us has been a Midday Dialogue Series on the second Thursday of the month from September through May which meets from Noon to 2:00 p.m. This year’s theme of the sessions is "Stories and Storytelling Within our Various Traditions." We have a presenter followed by small group conversation. Presenters have included Native, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and other leaders. We have had at least 30 persons at these sessions.

3. For several years we have also sponsored a Jewish Seder for the Interfaith Community that is held in one of the weeks closest to Passover. It follows the format of the traditional Jewish Seder, but involves persons of various religions. The Seder expresses the universal longing for freedom, justice, and transformation in our lives and in our world through ritual, readings, song, and a shared meal. In 2012 we will not have a SPIN-planned Seder but will encourage people to attend another seder for the community.

4. Interfaith Conversation Café is a monthly interfaith dialogue on the 3rd Monday evenings focused on questions of faith as they affect our world. These are open, facilitated conversations addressing topics of faith and society - listening and questioning with curiosity, discovery and sincerity. A topic is chosen by those who attend that evening. They are held at St. Paul Council of Churches where doors open at 6:30 p.m.

 

There are many other things that SPIN is involved in including sessions on Israel and Palestine matters, meeting with Native people about a memorial being planned for the 38 Native men who were hung 150 years ago this year in Mankato and other things.

In our work together in SPIN we have tried to find ways to deal with disagreements or misunderstandings among ourselves as planners and participants. It has mostly gone well, but we work on meeting the challenges and learning from each other. Most recently we have been trying to find ways of welcoming and including persons of other races and ethnic backgrounds. This was a key focus for us in the Fall Series last October. Though we have been diverse in our gatherings with more persons of varying religions, we have not been as successful in including persons of color. In other words, though we may be Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and others, we are mostly white faces. We really want to work more on that. For example, as we discuss the matter of racism, we have become much more aware that it includes issues of African and European people, but also other persons of color including Native Americans, Muslim people and other people who are not white. The issue is how power and prejudice combine to exclude and dehumanize people.

 

SPIN does not have a formal structure - i.e. we do not have officers, nor a Board of Directors. But we have a Planning Group, an Administrative Team and individuals who take particular responsibility to convene us, to maintain our database for mailings, to maintain our website, to keep track of our finances and other needs. These groups and assignments are not closed, but are open and welcome to anyone.

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The Rev. Paul Tidemann is a retired ELCA Lutheran pastor. He has been a part of the SPIN Planning Group and the Administrative Team for several years.