The Significance of Interfaith Dialogue
Arnos Vale Cemetery1. Personal Motive on Interfaith Activities
As a young student at the Remonstrant Seminary in Leiden I was sent to India; 22 years old. This was, because my Liberal Protestant Church is one of the founding members of the oldest interfaith organisations, The International Association For Religious Freedom (IARF). Founded in 1900. Can you imagine; normally I was studying the Hindu sacrifice-ritual in my ivory academic tower, and then there the experience of colours, smells and especially the wide variety of people from different faith traditions at an IARF Congress. It was explosive, I was quite flabbergasted. Also I found out, that in meeting all these dialogue-minded people from all over the globe, there was no real difficulty in sharing faith - and life experiences. A positiveness, a deep cross-fertilisation of thoughts. I decided to become active for IARF, which I did and do throughout my life. A lot of bridge-building needs to be done between cultures in learning to understand and to see more deeply.

2. On Rev. Peronne Boddaert
I graduated in the Masters of Theology, Leiden University and followed a post-graduate study for one year in Oxford. It was both clinical pastoral work and academic work on Wisdom Judaism. I then decided to work as European Coordinator for IARF in Oxford, next to my private tutorials on Early Christianity. Then, being an ordained Remonstrant Minister, I was inducted in a little congregation in picturesque Delft. Also I remained IARF Coordinator. I enjoy my vocation as a minister, being an enabler to discover spiritual and intellectual knowledge for people as I see my work. Also I felt passion to broaden my horizon a little further, so I decided to work as Coordinator of the volunteer work at a Unitarian church in New York. Right after this work I was Program Developer for IARF there. I decided to return to good old Amsterdam and last year I served both in the liturgical team of an ecumenical church and at a congregation near Harlem. New other challenges to: I train business people on ethical dimensions of their work and teach groups on faith-orientation. I enjoy being chair of our Dutch IARF Chapter and being board-member of The Dutch Interfaith Council as well. Being a spiritual worker has a lot of facets!

3. IARF as an Organisation, Nationally & Internationally
IARF was, as I told, founded in 1900, initially founded by Unitarians and 'liberal Christian thinkers' but now includes many traditions: Buddhists, Shinto, Hindu, Sikh, Muslims and Jews. There are 90 affiliated membergroups and national chapters in 25 countries who share the commitment to religious harmony and freedom of worship. Believing in the fact that religion brings a positive and constructive contribution to human society.

The IARF is a NGO based on article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. One has freedom to change his religion and manifest this of course without hindering or damaging others. Purpose of IARF is to work for this precious human right, enabling the best within human beings, seeking for enlightenment, mutual understanding and solidarity. IARF works on freedom from oppressive interference or discrimination by the state or governmental institutions, builds on harmony, or at least tolerance between communities (also by partnerships between religious communities) and also IARF develops the aspect of accountability by religious communities in upholding the fundamental dignity and human rights of their members and others. Concretely speaking there are programs on supporting affected communities and for instance restoring damaged religious sites. Also IARF people work a lot with non-formal diplomacy; communicating with decision makers to raise concerns about religious persecutions. Also there are many young adult programs in many countries. A code of worldwide healthy religious conduct is developed and next to this IARF identifies through its large network vulnerable areas to prevent acts of religious intolerance. The unique aspect of IARF to me is lying in the fact that it is both an effective and a very personal organisation. Meeting other free minds in a religious context at a congress, or on national meetings or other conferences brings an enriching dimension. In The Netherlands we cooperate a lot with other organisations in creating programs on various religious topics that are actual. For instance, the image of religion in the media, or on ways of religious education at schools. Our chapter consists of a lot of very engaged people; the meetings bring a lot of spiritual joy too. Welcome in Holland!

4.The Dutch Interfaith Council : Foundation, Local Councils, Meaning for Politics, Education and General Awareness
It all started at a greyish Monday morning in the Remonstrant church in Delft. A befriended interfaith colleague and myself felt the need of developing an existing formula of the so-called 'spiritual café'. In different cities and locations there were afternoons on topics that deal on religion, spirituality and cultural issues in society. People informally gather listening to a good speaker and enjoy discussion. At the same time, my friend and I wanted to see whether a national structure of dialogue-minded religious groups and organisations could evolve to develop and facilitate contacts. We asked people from different faith groups we already knew and had cooperated with, like a Sufi, a Baha'i and so on. The idea was well taken up, the informal session happened to grow towards a national Dutch Interfaith Council in which many faith organisations nationally and internationally, like Initiatives of Change, URI and WCRP are represented. Fortunately also our Dutch Council of Churches. Synchronically, there was the development of the local Councils on Religion and Life-attitudes, facilitating local cooperation and exchange between religious groups locally in cities. These Councils decided to join too. They implement the ideas, activities and input of the Dutch National Interfaith Council on a local scale. Purpose of the Dutch Council is to 'streamline' activities planned (for instance, not three interesting conferences in one weekend), exchange information and see whether joint activities can be planned. People from the Council organised a day on religious education ('Between fear and trust') and soon a debate on the role and influence of the government in supporting religious interfaith activities will be organised. The Council sees are meaningful role it can play in critically comment on religious societal dimensions in politics, education, knowledge, business and integration in The Netherlands. In the Council there is the atmosphere of friendship and companionship between representatives. The Council gathers twice a year, each time in a different city with hospitable hosts! A structure that is worthwhile!

5. Questions and Possibilities on European Harmonisation
There are a lot of questions and concerns around unity, harmony and law in Europe. Especially the question on role and influence of religious tradition are dividing the minds. How secular or how spiritual 'Europe' could or should be? IARF has many European membergroups (also Buddhist, Jewish, Muslims ones) that are in contact. Especially between liberal protestant churches there are a lot of cross-connections and partner churches all over Europe. A large group of Unitarian churches in Romania and Hungary have frequent contact with West-European and American groups. Also they receive financial help. A broader network of liberal protestant organisations and communities is being established. Also we have a network: www.liberalprotestants.net. I have to hope that all various dialogue-minded faith traditions, not necessarily IARF members, will be taking the chance to contribute critically and constructively in helping in this dimension of 'Soul for Europe'. The Council of Churches is building on this too. Do feel invited to join the challenge of giving Soul for Europe!

Suggested links:

www.iarf.net - the IARF website
www.liberalprotestants.net
www.interreligieus.nl
www.zinweb.nl
The author may be reached at peronne@wirehub.nl and website www.peronneboddaert.nl