Nurturing interfaith families

Sheila Gordon and Robin Elliott - Interfaith families

At the Easter Sunday 10 a.m. service you may have noticed some 20 people in the balcony’s first row: They were members of five interfaith families who belong to the Interfaith Community, an organization now nearly 20 years old spearheaded by Sheila Gordon, who serves as president,  and her husband Robin Elliott.

Sheila and Robin are part of one of St. Michael’s many interfaith families: She is Jewish; he, Christian.

“They loved the Easter celebration,” says Robin, a long-time St. Michael’s parishioner and former vestry member. “Rev. Kate warmly welcomed us.”

“The younger kids went off to Godly Play,” says Sheila. “And then they joined the Easter egg hunt.”

The Interfaith Community has long held classes for its members in rental space at St. Michael’s. Two teachers cover their respective traditions. Among the courses: Bible Heroes and Sacred Texts.

Sheila is a member of Romemu, the nearby synagogue that a St. Michael’s group visited in January for a Friday night service.

“We want families to be able to sustain religious traditions and pass them along to their children in a respectful and authentic way,” Sheila says.

The Interfaith Community now encompasses some 100 families with chapters also in Westchester, Long Island, and New Jersey. Funding comes from membership dues and donations. Adult education and counseling are available too.

When their two children were young, Robin and Sheila enlisted the Trinity School chaplain to help set up a program.

Robin, from near Oxford, England, is the former president of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Sheila, from the Boston area, was a dean at LaGuardia Community College and a staff member at the Ford Foundation.

The Interfaith Community has pioneered an approach that could be a model for other faiths in other communities as well. In America today, Sheila says, “Interfaith marriage is the new normal.”

Photo: Two religions, one family: Sheila Gordon and Robin Elliott “value each other’s traditions,” Robin says.