Spirituality from the comfort of your own sofa
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Interfaith collaborationSofa Spirituality

Spirituality from the comfort of your own sofa

Rabbi Ron Symons and Rev. Liddy Barlow host a new dialogue initiative to foster respect and understanding.

Rabbi Ron Symons and Rev. Liddy Barlow. (Photo provided by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh)
Rabbi Ron Symons and Rev. Liddy Barlow. (Photo provided by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh)

Let’s face it: the living room couch is a pretty big draw these days.

But when the Netflix binging is done – or even if you just crave a break from true crime sagas and sitcoms – a new local interfaith offering providing inspiration during these troubling times might just be the ticket.

This week, the Center for Loving Kindness of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, in collaboration with Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, announced an interfaith initiative: Sofa Spirituality, inviting diverse people of faith into learning and dialogue – from the living rooms of its hosts to the living rooms of its viewers.

Interviews with diverse faith leaders from across the country and from around the world will be conducted by Reverend Liddy Barlow, executive minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, and Rabbi Ron Symons, director of the Center for Loving Kindness. Viewers also will be able to sign up for small group Zoom conversations hosted by Barlow and Symons in an effort to promote “dialogue, curiosity, openness and respect,” according to a press release.

“I’m really excited about Sofa Spirituality,” said Barlow. “This project builds on the existing strengths of the interfaith programming and relationships that the Center for Loving Kindness and Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania have developed over the past three years. We help people connect our distinct and fascinating faith traditions to the values that undergird a civil society, and we encourage respectful dialogue among diverse people of faith and good will. We’ll now be able to bring our work to a wider audience, including many who might not have access to interfaith dialogue in their own communities.”

The process of creating Sofa Spirituality “has been humbling, educational and inspirational,” said Symons. “I am humbled to be in partnership with Rev. Barlow in another way that our shared values bridge the real and perceived differences of our faith traditions.”

Interviews with Rev. B. De Neice Welch from Pittsburgh’s Bidwell Street United Presbyterian Church, Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman from New York’s Larchmont Temple and Imam Abdullah Antepli from Sanford School at Duke University are already posted on the website, sofaspirituality.org. New interviews are to be posted weekly.

“I have already learned so much through the interviews I have conducted with spiritual leaders across the country and the faith spectrum,” Symons said. “I am inspired by the generosity of time, spirit and hope I have witnessed from old and new friends bound together in our spiritual searches. We invite all Pittsburghers to have a seat on the sofa and join in the conversation.”

Sofa Spirituality is an outgrowth of the interfaith work that the Center for Loving Kindness has been engaging in with Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania for the past three years and is funded by The Russell Berrie Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Opportunity Fund and individuals throughout the community.

Another interfaith initiative, a May 17 program featuring faith leaders from various traditions, can be viewed on the Christian Associates Facebook page. The half hour program, “Together in Hope for Healing: Interfaith Prayers amid COVID-19,” is a brief service of prayer, music and dance, and was co-sponsored by more than two dozen community organizations, including the Center for Loving Kindness and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Participants included Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Rabbi Jamie Gibson of Temple Sinai, Imam Chris Caras of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, and Bhante Pemaratana of Pittsburgh Buddhist Center. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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