Instead of looking at the closing of Scarboro Mission after over 30 years of service as the end of an era, Director of Interfaith Work Paul McKenna sees it as an opportunity to take their ministry to college campuses.
Although Scarboro Mission as we know it will disband this year, their work will continue, beginning with the opening of an Interfaith Chair of Studies at Regis University (Toronto, Ontario). The transition from Scarboro Mission as a stand-alone organization into the academic world is being funded by large donations given to Regis University in Scarboro Mission’s name. These donations will enable the school to set up a “professorship” that will permanently build a study of interfaith, McKenna said.
“Interreligion is the future of religion,” McKenna said. “That’s true at the academic level too. The time is right for this kind of thing.”
Scarboro Mission, an Affiliate of the United Religions Initiative in North America, is a Canadian Roman Catholic mission society best known for their Golden Rule “Do unto others” posters that put the phrase into 13 different religious contexts. Scarboro Mission’s focus on interfaith relationships is to promote dialogue between different communities in order to see the goodness in other traditions. They try to meet local needs as they emerge through forums, lobbying government, meeting with government representatives and prayer vigils. All of this is made more powerful with so many different religions coming together.
“We are somehow incomplete without [other faith communities],” McKenna said. “There has to be more than this putting up with other religions. It’s really about a humility that enables us to open up to the gift of the other.”
Susan Soleil, Executive Director at the Golden Rule Project, which for years has used resources produced and curated by Scarboro Mission, said she wants to send out lots of love and light to everyone at Scarboro mIssion.
“It’s always sad to see an entity disappear, especially when they’re doing such good and meaningful work,” Soleil said. The Golden Rule Project is also an Affiliate of the United Religions Initiative in North America based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“I do hope that the work they do at the university level blossoms and creates some new circles and new energies that couldn’t have happened otherwise,” Soleil said.
Scarboro Mission hopes that the interfaith work that has been done by members for the past 30 years – such as lobbying government, meeting with representatives and holding prayer vigils in political environments that can be made stronger with people of multiple religious backgrounds working together- will continue with students.
The Interfaith Chair of Studies program is committed to carrying on the legacy of Scarboro Mission by reaching out beyond the university audience. By doing so, they will continue to build interfaith relationships that promote and strengthen social justice activism.
The program at Regis University will be staff-run, with the potential to hire graduate students as full-time directors. Students will be encouraged to volunteer with the department, but McKenna said the details of the program are yet to be discussed. The Interfaith Chair of Studies program is scheduled to launch within six months to a year.
“We will be handing this over to the university as [Scarboro Mission] shuts down,” McKenna said. “They will have a better sense of the direction this will be taking.”
With integrating teaching interfaith at the university-level, McKenna sees a future of college students who are more understanding of other religions and, in turn, can better work together to create change. As director of interfaith work, McKenna believes in the “process of purification through the dialogue” with people of other religious backgrounds.
“There has to be more than putting up with [other religious traditions],” McKenna said. “It’s really about a humility that enables us to open up to the gift of the other.”
If you would like to get involved in interfaith work and/or the United Religions Initiative, click here to find the Cooperation Circle nearest you.
This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Grace King. You can read more of her work here.