Originally posted at http://www.wickedlocal.com/article/20120402/NEWS/304029538

By Tom O’Brien/Special to the Town Crier

Religion is often thought to be one of the most divisive topics in the world. The leaders of Sudbury’s houses of worship work hard to make sure that’s not the case in our town.

The fact that Sudbury has eleven houses of worship may lead some to assume that there are many disagreements and disputes. In fact, the Sudbury Clergy Association gathers monthly, working hard to ensure that Sudbury’s communities of faith can work together to find common ground, while still being true to their respective traditions.

“As a newcomer to the community, I’ve found the Clergy Association a source of warmth and collegiality,” says Rev. Gary Kowalski, interim minister at First Parish Sudbury, Unitarian Universalist. “Religion is too often a source of misunderstanding in our society, but the various faith leaders of Sudbury model courtesy, respect and mutual support.”

The ministers, priests, rabbis and religious educators who make up the group strive to serve their individual congregations and the whole community by seeking an understanding of common issues. At least once a year, the leadership of Sudbury Public Schools and of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional School are invited to join the luncheon to discuss issues facing the town’s youth. Through these discussions, the group seeks to find ways to work in conjunction with the schools to assist families in addressing concerns.

Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman of Congregation B’nai Torah has been an active participant in the Sudbury Clergy Association for 15 years. He describes it as “an organization composed of unique individuals whose passion it is to serve the Divine–but also the community.” He explains that the meetings address personal as well as communal concerns. Members of the group have participated together in common response to issues and tragedies such as 9/11 and the swastikas that were drawn on the welcome sign of one of the houses of worship. “Together, we addressed educational problems at LSRHS and cultural issues such as bullying and hate crimes. We have also rejoiced and celebrated together on occasions of national holidays’” Heilman continues, ”The SCA has brought all of us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the many spiritual and religious traditions followed in our region of the country.

Rev. Barbara Williamson, rector at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church has hailed the group’s leadership in connecting the town’s churches and synagogues with groups such as the STOP (Students Together Omitting Prejudice) program, Habitat for Humanity, the Metrowest Free Medical Clinic, and others. “Today the religious professionals in town will tell you that the Sudbury Clergy Association is the best ecumenical and interfaith group they have ever been a part of.”

Rev. Christopher George Hoyer, pastor of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church agrees that Sudbury’s group is unique. “In all my years as a pastor of the church – and that’s rather a long time! — I have never experienced a more welcoming and engaging area clergy association than Sudbury’s. Bright, dedicated folk, committed to the welfare of the town and to the support of one another.”

While the participants seek common ground, they are also encouraged to remain solidly rooted in their respective traditions. Even though there is a diverse spectrum of beliefs, all are treated with respect and given equal standing. An honest and open sharing of ideas is encouraged. The Sudbury Clergy Association sincerely trusts that differing theologies and faiths can exist together in a loving and caring society.

Leadership in the group rotates over time. For the past two years, Rev. Tom O’Brien, pastor and teacher at Memorial Congregational Church, United Church of Christ has been facilitator. “As one of the more recent arrivals in town, and as someone who is newer to ministry, it has been an honor and a privilege to meet with the group,” says O’Brien. “There is so much insight and wisdom to be gained from the different perspectives that are offered. The fact that we all get along so well proves that religion doesn’t have to be a source of tension and fighting.” In addition to monthly meetings, the group offers interfaith and ecumenical worship opportunities on special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Good Friday.

As the religious leadership in the town’s religious institutions change, new clergy are invited to join the group. Rev. Richard Erikson was sincerely welcomed by the group as he became the new pastor at Our Lady of Fatima. “As the newest member of the Sudbury Clergy Association,” he says, “I am very impressed with the warmth of the members and the depth of our conversations. Members of the Association have been extremely generous in welcoming me to Sudbury and inviting me to join in this wonderful ministerial collaboration.”

The members of the Sudbury Clergy Association are dedicated to demonstrating that religion doesn’t have to be divisive. The wisdom gained and community shared at the monthly meetings allow the clergy members present to better serve their congregations and all of Sudbury.