In December, the Rev. W.G. Hardy of Highland Christian Center brought together a multi-faith group of religious leaders to collaborate on the problems facing urban congregations.
Imam Mikal Shabazz says that while working together is nothing new, this gathering is something different.
"I've been in Portland for 30 years," he told The Skanner News. "I've never attended any meeting … that held as much promise that this meeting did."
Hesitant to call himself the leader of the urban multi-faith group, Hardy said his purpose is simple: bring together leaders of urban faith institutions to collectively try to tackle problems affecting them all. Although he's moderating the group, he said that he wants the members to direct their focus as a group.
"That's the reason I'm not calling it a Black group, cause it's not; it's the reason it's not called a Christian group, cause it's not; it's the reason it's not a Portland group, cause it's not," he said.
Shabazz, director of the Oregon Islamic Chaplains Organization and founder of Muslims Inviting Sharing and Service In Our Neighborhood, says the collective atmosphere is needed for a simple reason – the problems of people of faith in Portland are also shared.
"As managers of resources, let's bring them together collaboratively," he said. "Let's plan a future, not just react to circumstance."
Whether it's unemployment, HIV/AIDS, gang crime, mental health access or education, Hardy and the others hope to be able to address these long-standing community concerns. How those problems will be addressed will be up to the group, says Hardy. He says the next meeting of the group on March 10 at the PacWest Building will focus on a single issue, something that is an "easy win."
"So we can see our potential and capabilities when we work together," he said. "When we have a focus, it keeps us to get distracted from our differences."
It's easy to see how philosophical differences can derail even the best of intentions. And people of faith are hardly immune from such divisions – all you have to do is look at all the different denominations of any religion.
Dr. T. Allen Bethel of Maranatha Church says such divisions can be avoided with this diverse group of leaders.
"The issues that might separate us, they can be overcome because we're looking at how we can help other people," he said.
Shabazz says he thinks the group holds such promise because of Hardy's approach.
"For me, (past collaborations) have been an invitation to what's already started," he said. "This time it was set on the ground floor. Now there's an emphasis on transparency and inclusiveness."
Shabazz says it's an opportunity that faith leaders have a responsibility to capitalize on.
Bethel said he envisions partnerships that can unite houses of faith, expand effective outreach programs and create networks of open communication and shared resources.
"We need to get away from churches being silos," Hardy said. "So we can work together."
Any urban leader of faith is encouraged to attend the next meeting on March 10. Contact Rev. Hardy at the Highland Christian Center, 503-287-9567.