MARCO ISLAND — "It's one of the best things the island has ever done," said Wesley United Methodist Church member Betty Thacher. Her and her husband Tom, a lay leader at their church, attended nine of the 10 sessions at last year's Marco Island Clergy Associations interfaith community adult education series entitled: "Embracing, with Love and Understanding." The one they missed was on Methodism but due to popular demand their pastor, the Rev. Kirk Dreiser, gave the presentation at a recent spaghetti dinner at the church.
The series under the leadership of Marco Island's Clergy Association President Rabbi Edward Maline grew from the desire to extend the sense of fellowship experienced at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.
"Our goal is to cement relationships within the community and to promote unity, harmony and concord among the houses of worship," said Maline. They also want to educate everyone on what the different faiths believe and how they differ as they focus on what they can do together to make our community a better place as they promote better understanding.
Last year's series was a mini Religion 101 class without having to leave the island. It explored each of Marco's faith groups with topics ranging from the four major movements in Judaism to the Pentecostal movement and Presbyterianism.
"The presentations were well received", said clergy association member the Rev. Kevin Koenig. "As we talked about our uniqueness we also touched upon our commonalities."
Since Christianity has its roots in Judaism last year's series began most fittingly at the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island.
This year the series will begin with something light-hearted: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pulpit" 7 p.m., Wednesday at Marco Presbyterian Church. Participating clergy will share the humorous and embarrassing incidents that occurred in their ministry. A reception will follow the presentation.
And the Thachers can't wait to go. They found last year's series to be very informative. The highlight for them was at the synagogue where Maline showed everyone the Torah and explained the four major movements in Judaism. The one-hour session was followed by an hour question and answer period. "We could have gone longer but the ice cream we planned to serve at the reception was melting," said Maline.
"We are always impressed with interfaith events such as the Easter Sunrise Service and the Prayer Breakfast," said Betty. "The more knowledge we have about a specific faith the more we understand."
They also found it helpful to match names and faces of the island's clergy. Attendees had a chance to meet and interact with the clergy at the reception that followed each session.
Introducing the community to the different leaders of faith and allowing people to see the different aspects of faith on this island are among the goals of the series said association member the Rev. William Lyle.
"The whole process of learning about another's faith reinforced what we believe," said Tom Thacher. It gave a good understanding of what others believe and cleared up any misperceptions. Each of the pastors took time to explain the far right and far left of each of their faiths. "Well, worth going to," he said.
In addition to the educational series the clergy association has monthly lunch meetings from Sept. to April to discuss common problems and concerns. They pray at times for island wide matters and one another. They also participated in Christmas Island Style, the Annual Prayer Breakfast, veterans' events and support the benevolence portion of the Oasis Center, housed on the campus of the Family Church – Marco.
The Church Lady was able to tease out two tidbits about the first session. Lyle will share about the time he almost fell into a grave at a funeral service and Maline will share why he will always listen to the news before giving a message.
"What I found interesting about this topic is when we were talking this up, all of us have similar experiences yet they all are just a little different. We were sharing stories around a lunch table and each of us were laughing at ourselves and with each other," said Lyle. "We are men of faith, yet all of us do have a lighter side and we all have the ability to laugh at ourselves."
Cards will be passed out towards the end of the first session for people to ask questions they would like to be answered at the Feb. 21 session entitled: "Everything You Wanted to Know About Religion But Were Afraid to Ask." A third session will be held in March, watch the Faith Briefs for details.
If you go
Marco Island Clergy Association Education Series
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pulpit"
What: A Panel of clergy will discuss, humorous and embarrassing incidents that occurred in their ministry.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Marco Presbyterian Church, 875 W. Elkcam Circle, Marco Island
"Everything You Wanted to Know About Religion But Were Afraid to Ask"
What: A Panel of clergy will host a question and answer program When: 7 p.m. Feb. 21
Where: Marco Lutheran Church, 595 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island
March program to be announced.