Religion in the Fabric of American Society
In the 1990’s, it was widely acknowledged that congregations historically provide an essential supportive role within the fabric of U.S. society – from assistance for immigrants to engagement in people’s ongoing lives.
Wide-ranging contemporary efforts to benefit from their integral role have lacked a framework which enabled this effort to achieve validation as appropriate and efficient.
An appropriate framework would reflect the unique status and functions of religion institutions and accordingly, set clear policies determining the relationship and practices between religion sector institutions and the institutions of the civic sectors: government, education, human services and business.
Efficient strategies would recognize the need for an infrastructure to garner the vast benefits of Congregation Based Resources (CBR) and Congregation Based Constituent Engagement (CBCE) from the full magnitude and faith diversity within the totality of congregations in every region.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, the unique insight of one community foundation brought about this framework. The Peninsula Community Foundation (PCF) served San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County. They embarked on a venture which initiated the role of the Religion Sector Specialist (RSS) and resulted in the clarification of the landscape of the Religion Sector, which resulted from the formulation of Regional Clergy Engagement (RCE).
The Foundation recognized that the religion realm was the only sector in the community which lacked a structure with the capacity to engage all the lead professionals of its core institution, in this case the congregational clergy. The Foundation speculated that if there was a structure by which all clergy could be collectively engaged, this would serve as the central element to produce (a) a structure within the Religion Sector encompassing all congregations, and (b) a framework for an alignment that was appropriate and efficient to support initiatives between the institutions of the civic sectors and the congregations.
Furthermore, the Foundation leadership anticipated that the wider impact of this structure of the Religion Sector would be to delineate the contemporary place of religion within American society. The historic fragmentation among the diversity of faiths perpetuated significant misperceptions. They speculated that if all clergy in a region were mutually engaged, this would bring about mutual engagement among people of all faiths, as well as the inclusion of religion in the national discourse.
Initiating the methodology for Regional Clergy Engagement resulted in (1) a system of mutual engagement within the Religion Sector – clergy and congregations, and (2) the successful realization of the long sought effort to achieve a productive “appropriate and efficient” alignment for the Religion Sector and civic sectors relationship. The Regional Clergy Engagement achieves an “alignment” which reverses what had been thwarted by the misalignment perpetuated by the erroneously declared “wall” between religion and “state.”
The initiative uncovered the exclusion of religion diversity from the customary, even required, professional training in all sectors. Working with each civic sector, the initiative expanded its scope to include trainings and consultation in Multi-Faith Awareness (MFA). This resulted in institutional leadership realizing a positive and dramatic shift in their effectiveness of engagement with staff, clients, and constituents and the community
The Foundation’s initial Religion Sector Specialist, Rabbi Jay Miller, led (a) the formation of the design elements of the Religion Sector, (b) the specifics of the alignment’s concept and applications, (c) MFA curriculum developed and the training and consultation, and (d) coordination of collaborative projects (e) the cataloging of the knowledge and functions of a Religion Sector Specialist.
Regional Clergy Engagement of all clergy encompasses each region’s diversity of denominations, demographics and geography. It also engages the full diversity of clergy affinity groups in each region. A key benefit of RCE is a variety of innovative modes of clergy collective discourse: (a) clergy with clergy and clergy with civic leaders, by region and by area (b) by city, with city manager sessions and by school district, with superintendent and principal sessions, (c) state assembly member sessions and state senator sessions.
The design framework of the Religion Sector serves to advance the nature of multi-faith relations and impacting individual lives, institutions, and society.
The Foundation initiative and resulting framework for Religion Sector 3.0 aligns religion within a 21st century society. In reducing misperceptions and achieving unprecedented vital levels of community, it advances the pursuit of fully achieving an inclusive, pluralistic democratic society.
Rabbi Jay Miller RELIGION SECTOR 3.0
1.0 On the Town Square 2.0 Walls of Separation
3.0 Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society