The Interfaith Leadership Institute Embraces Attendees’ Differences

By Melissa Sersland, February 20, 2019

Cara Doidge Kilgore, special events and evaluation manager for the Interfaith Youth Core and Brian Anderson, student leadership manager for IFYC, are veterans of planning large-scale interfaith events. Both work on the three-day annual Interfaith Leadership Institute which welcomed 400 college students and educators to Chicago this summer.

The ILI, first offered in 2010, has become the flagship event of the IFYC, Anderson says. The institute serves as both a capstone and a kick-off to some of the organization’s campus programming, including webinars and online workshops. IFYC works to de-emphasize the stigma of talking about religion and bridge differences to help people work together in their communities to make positive change, Anderson says.

To accomplish that mission, the ILI is carefully planned to provide space for conversations as well as opportunities for attendees to take part in and experience practices from a variety of faith traditions. Doidge Kilgore and Anderson share what goes into planning an interfaith program of this magnitude.

Building relationships

A critical component of the ILI is to build trust between attendees, especially since some participants miss the opportunity to engage with people of other faith traditions.

“We’re empowering people to step out of their comfort zones, to engage, and to see the stories and humanity of people who have been raised in a different culture,” Anderson says.

The ILI has incorporated a few critical components to its schedule to help attendees build relationships with one another. The first is an emphasis on storytelling, which allows attendees to better understand themselves and their worldview, Anderson says. The ILI reserves an hour on Saturday morning for its Storytelling Sessions, during which IFYC coaches and alumni share their personal interfaith journeys. The format is similar to The Moth, a popular NPR radio show and podcast, where storytellers hone their stories in advance of telling them live.

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