LA creates interfaith network

Representatives from more than a dozen faith groups met Tuesday to discuss forming a statewide interfaith organization.

BY CHUCK HUSTMYRE | BATON ROUGE, La. | October 7, 2005

Representatives from more than a dozen faith groups met Tuesday to discuss forming a statewide interfaith organization aimed at coordinating Louisiana's faith-based relief efforts.

After back-to-back hurricanes affected the Louisiana coast in August and September, local faith-based groups from around the state sprang into action to feed, clothe, and shelter those forced to evacuate their homes.

The local groups took care of people's emergency needs, said Church World Service Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Lura Cayton. But what's needed, she said, is a larger organization that can coordinate the long-term efforts of recovery and rebuilding.

"The purpose of the meeting was to get together those folks who are interested in the long-term recovery of the whole state," she said.

Tuesday's meeting was the first step in developing a statewide interfaith network that can help with fundraising, distribution of relief resources, coordination among volunteers, and training, Cayton added.

Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Sikhs have all been invited to be part of the proposed new group.

Without a larger organization representing them, some smaller faith-based relief groups may fall through the cracks and not get the support they need, Cayton noted. "Everybody wants to go to New Orleans...but what about Cameron, and what about Forked Island and Pecan Island and Cow Island, and what about Covington, and what about Bogalusa?" she asked. "I haven't had a thousand people calling me and saying, 'Gee, can I volunteer at Cow Island?'"

In addition to providing support for recovery and rebuilding efforts, Cayton said she hopes the new organization will try to tackle some of the painful issues raised in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina, long-term issues like racism and poverty.

The Rev. Jeff Day, executive director of the Greater Baton Rouge Federation of Churches and Synagogues, volunteered to be part of the steering committee in charge of laying out the basic structure and mission for the new group.

Day said there is currently no statewide multi-faith organization that can support and coordinate the efforts of local faith-based relief groups. "As I appreciate it," he said, "there's a lot of fallow ground that we've never plowed because we haven't had to, in terms of all the religious communities coming together to agree on some basic principles of fairness and representation for everybody."

Day agreed with the idea that there is strength in numbers. He said he hopes the new organization will be loud enough to be heard and that it will provide an equal voice for the state's entire faith-based community - from the largest congregation to the smallest.

"What I heard on Tuesday was a serious intent to try to form a larger interfaith organization that would include any persons of goodwill who want to work together to ensure that all people in Louisiana are going to be fairly represented," Day said.

The steering committee is set to meet sometime within the next week to begin work.

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