Interfaith Arkansas is an ecumenical and interfaith organization bringing together several religious groups for programming in two major areas: unity/relationships and mission/service. The following faith traditions make up the membership of the organization: Christian, Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Unitarian. Within each faith tradition, various expressions and denominations are represented.
Interfaith Arkansas is rooted in the international and national ecumenical movements that developed after World War II. The World Council of Churches began in 1948 in Amsterdam with 147 churches from around the world involved in its formation. Its early roots were in the lay movements of the nineteenth century and the 1910 Edinburgh world missionary conference. The National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States, which began in 1950 in Cleveland, Ohio, has thirty-eight Christian bodies in the United States with more than 40 million members.
The early goal of the ecumenical movement was to seek unity between the various denominations and to seek peace in the world. This was the impetus behind the formation of the Arkansas Council of Churches in the 1950s not long after the 1957 desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). During this time, there was a municipal ordinance in Little Rock that prohibited white and black pastors from meeting together within the boundaries of the city. A decision was made to meet at Camp Aldersgate, which was outside the city limits of Little Rock at that time. The land that the camp was situated on belonged to the national Methodist women’s organization in New York City.
Arising from the meetings was a decision to begin the Arkansas Council of Churches. As the council began, some of the early denominational leadership came from the Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.
As the years progressed, the Arkansas Council of Churches began to engage in dialogue with growing faith traditions in Arkansas other than the Christian tradition. By the early 1980s, Temple B’nai Israel in Little Rock applied for membership. The council decided to change its mission, becoming an organization that focused on both ecumenical and interfaith work. The name was changed to the Arkansas Conference of Churches and Synagogues. The emphasis on interfaith dialogue continued to grow as the diverse faith tradition in Arkansas continued to emerge. By the 1990s, groups representing Baha’i and Muslim traditions applied for membership. The name of the organization was again changed, this time to the Arkansas Interfaith Conference.
In November 2013, the name of the organization changed once again, to Interfaith Arkansas, to reflect its emphasis on ecumenical and interfaith life. Mimi Dortch served for more than thirty years as the executive director. Succeeding Dortch was the Reverend Stephen Copley, a United Methodist clergyman who was previously chair of the board of directors.
For additional information:
Interfaith Arkansas. http://www.interfaitharkansas.com/ (accessed August 31, 2020).
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