Laurie’s Reflections: IP Dinner: The Power of the Personal

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Laurie Niemann Anzilotti is a first-year Masters of Divinity student at Eden Theological Seminary. Her Seminary work includes a Contextual Education placement with the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis for the 2016-17 academic year. Laurie brings her background as a mother of four, a theology teacher, a liturgist, and the Director of Programming at Camp Thunderbird to her work with IP.

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” –Robert Collier

The Interfaith Partnership Annual Dinner on Thursday, October 27th, reminds me that the transformative work of the world occurs most often in small moments.

The scope of the dinner was impressive. I was amazed to see a room of nearly 450 people all gathered to support interfaith relationship, dialogue, and understanding. My husband noted that the dinner was the most authentically diverse group of people he has seen in St. Louis. And yet, the transformative work occurs on a smaller scale. The formal presentation was not as thought-provoking for me as the small conversations I had while greeting Cabinet Members before a meeting, or chatting with a Muslim mother at the Islamic Foundation at Sprouts of Peace pick up. While large gatherings provide a powerful witness to the number of people who desire interfaith conversation and connection, it is the personal conversations and interactions that shape ideas and change hearts.

Handing out name tags was an opportunity for small moment interactions. Simply hearing the variety of names and accents, and seeing the wide array of skin tones and dress was inspiring. Two days later, I was at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. It struck me how similar everyone looked both in skin tone and in attire. Placing myself in environments with a variety of people raises my awareness of the spaces that are homogeneous.

The small moments also allow me to transform names into people. For example, before beginning Eden, “Christian Science” was a minority Christian denomination that was vaguely puzzling to me. It was a name. But through Eden and IP, “Christian Science” now means Jerri, Tom, and Maryl. Handing out name tags allowed me to connect with Maryl again, and to meet and have a conversation with Tom.

During the Annual Dinner, I also realized that the “small moment” of the food options conveys a message. There were so many dinner choices! As I tuned into the Kosher chicken, Kosher special, beef, chicken, and veggie options, I realized that the variety of offerings conveys a concern for the ethical and religious issues that attendees bring to eating. Multiple food options includes people and honors them. This small moment carries a huge message: you are welcome and wanted.

Recognizing that small moments have transformative power validates the award for Harvey and Leanne Schneider. Their work on behalf of IP includes large roles and grand gestures, but they primarily were honored for their long-term commitment to opening their home and hearts to interfaith dialogue. After all, it was the Monday night discussion group that came up to the podium, not the Vice President from Harvey’s term as President of the Board.

Recognizing the power of small moments shapes my thinking in moving forward in this year, and in what I hope will be a life-long commitment to interfaith work. I need to show up. I need to be open. Creating grand-scale programming or counting large numbers of attendees may not mean success. Entering into conversation, creating relationship, “small moments” are the key.