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Dutchess County Interfaith Council working together since 1972

The Dutchess (County) Interfaith Council was formed in the early 1970's by forward thinking members of the Dutchess County Council of Churches. The Council of Churches was formed in 1946 with a membership of 24 Christian Protestant churches, brought together for the purpose of ecumenical co-operation.One participant in the sessions for approval of the constitution of the new ecumenical Council of Churches was Rev. Henry Smith Leiper, who stated, “the world which is now a physical neighborhood must become a spiritual community - else destruction of civilization confronts humanity.”

In the nearly three decades of its existence, the Council of Churches sought to unite the various Christian denominations to promote local interests and confront community issues such as race relations, public housing, social action, religious education, prison chaplaincy, prisoner re-entry and draft counseling. In 1958, First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was a key speaker at a public assembly where Dutchess County Council of Churches Vice President, Mrs. John Mulford Hackett presented her with a Resolution of Regard. The subject of the assembly was “New Approaches to Peace in the Nuclear Age.”

The Formation of the Dutchess County Interfaith Council

In February of 1971 the Ecumenical Joint Study Committee was formed by the Council of Churches in an effort to plan “for a more inclusive vehicle for cooperative religious endeavor in the county.” This was a very strong committee composed of 20 representatives of many different congregations including Rabbi Henry Bamberger, Rev. Karl A. Bauer, Rev. Rev. Ernest R. Falardeau, Rev. Hugh F. Miller and his wife Martha, Rev. Richard S. Parker, Rev. Joseph M. Pernicone, Charles E. Rich and Rev. Paul H. Rutgers. The group's work also enjoyed the enthusiastic Blessing of Rabbi Erwin Zimet.

On May 2nd, 1972, the Constituting Assembly of the Dutchess (County) Interfaith Council was held at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Poughkeepsie. Fifty-four representatives from area congregations were present and spirits were high; a banner above the doorway leading into the meeting read: “Love Has Brought Us Together”. This statement became the defining message of the newly formed Interfaith Council. Dutchess County Council of Churches President, Charles E. Rich noted at the Council of Churches’; Concluding Assembly, “so the Council of Churches must now decrease in order that the Dutchess Interfaith Council may now increase.” The newly formed Council had 70 charter congregations.

Executive Minister of the Council of Churches, Rev. Hugh Miller, formally stepped down from his position, his wife Martha S. Miller took the position of Executive Director of the Interfaith Council following a nationwide search for candidates. Mrs. Miller held this position for 18 years, during which the Interfaith Council developed many programs that built on the mission of the Council of Churches, and developed many new programs.

Members of the Ecumenical Joint Study Committee, left to right: Rev., Paul H. Rutgers; Charles E. Rich, Rabbi Henry Bamberger, Rev. Joseph M. Pernicone, Rev. Earnest R. Falardeau, Rev. Hugh F. Miller, Rev. Karl A. Bauer, Mrs. Martha Miller, Rev. Richard S. Parker.

Programs of the Dutchess County Interaith Council

During its first year the Interfaith Council established Project Gateway, a re-entry program for persons incarcerated in the Dutchess County Jail. It later became an independent non-profit as did the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program, an organization formed by the Council to enable frail elderly people to remain in their own homes by offering telephone support and transportation to appointments and shopping.

In the wake of the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, the Interfaith Council established the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Task Force which attempted to assist those sponsoring refugees as well as the affected men, women and children themselves. Over 350 Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees were resettled in the Mid-Hudson area.

The Interfaith Dialogue program began in 1974 with discussions on interfaith-harmony hosted in participants’ living rooms. These gatherings enabled people of faith to come together and exchange information and personal views on faith in a non-threatening atmosphere. In recent years these programs were held in houses of worship around the County.

Also in 1974 the DCIC organized The Ecumenical Singles. TES welcomed young people of all faiths and ages over eighteen. Activities included picnics, square dances, theater parties, camping weekends and holiday mixers.

Since 1975 the DCIC Interfaith Music Festival has provided the County with the occasion to share their unique musical traditions. Throughout its history the Festival has highlighted various talented individuals and groups including children’s choruses and an interfaith choir. 2010 marked the 35th Music Festival which was held at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church of Wappingers Falls and raised over $3000 for the work of the Council.

In 1976 the first CROP Walk to fight hunger was held in the City of Poughkeepsie. 325 walkers raised $7470.84 and walked 10 miles. Today, the CROP Walk is one of the Council’s most consistently successful programs. In 2009, over 450 walkers participated (walking 10 km./6.8 miles) and raising over $55,000 for Church World Service and local agencies including Dutchess Outreach.

In 1980 the Council established an Oil Purchase Group with local heating oil providers which allowed area congregations to buy oil for their houses of worship at a discounted rate. Today over 100 congregations and non-profits benefit from the DCIC OPG, in cooperation with Love/Effron.

For many years the Interfaith Council organized a Houses of Worship Tour for residents of the County. This program discussed the many facets of church and temple architecture, polity and theological vision.

In the 1990’s, several Youth Events were sponsored by DCIC which have stressed creativity, tolerance and openness to religious diversity. On-going efforts have focused dialog and social action to bring about greater understanding of the problems that divide us and ways in which barriers might be overcome by interfaith friendship.

Beginning in 2000 the DCIC has held an annual Poverty Forum to address the issues of the poor in our community and the ways in which faith leaders and local agencies can and do address the problem. In 2010 the Poverty Forum was held at Beulah Baptist Church. DCIC President, Theresa Giovanniello, led a panel discussion on advocating for the poor.

The Dutchess County Interfaith Council Today

Rev. Gail Burger became Executive Director of DCIC in 1991 when Martha Miller retired. Gail stayed with DCIC for 15 years, building on the foundations established years before. In 2005 the Council received a grant from the Dyson Foundation to fund a Plan for the Future of the organization. Ed Koziol, former Treasurer of the DCIC Board of Directors, became Executive Director in 2009 and stepped down in 2014. Our current Executive Director of DCIC, Clare J. Chapman is working with the Board of Directors to insure the success of that Plan.

In 1976 the Dutchess County Interfaith Council moved its office from the United Way building in the City of Poughkeepsie where the Council of Churches’ office had been housed, to the Cunneen-Hackett Cultural Center at 9 Vassar Street. After four years at the Family Partnership Center at 29 N. Hamilton St., the DCIC office moved back to Cunneen-Hackett in the spring of 2011.

Today, Dutchess County is home to over 30 different faith groups and over 200 houses of worship. During this past decade, the Mid-Hudson Islamic Association and Masjid Al-Noor, the Hindu Samaj and Cultural Center and Kagyu Thubten Choling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery have been added to the Council’s Membership. The DCIC is one of the oldest, continuous interfaith organizations in the U.S.

For nearly four decades the Dutchess County Interfaith Council has brought people of faith together to make a difference in our community, while promoting tolerance through education. DCIC’s first President of the Board of Directors, Rev. Ernest R. Falardeau, noted in his President’s Report in 1973, “Enthusiasm, hope and courage mark our humble beginnings. Noble deeds must chart our future history, if we are to long endure and meet the challenge of our times.”

Left to right: Rabbi Henry Bamberger, Rev. David J. Bowman, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, Mrs. Martha Miller

Prepared by Faith Adams with help from Father Brian Mc Weeney’s “Reflections on the Dutchess Interfaith Council Inc., 1997.” Edited by Martha S. Miller, Gail A. Burger and Edward A. Koziol. Sources include DCIC official transcripts.

Interfaith Activity in Dutchess County, NY

The following excerpt was recorded on The Pluralism Project web site in 2003.

June 15, 2003 the Poughkeepsie Journal reported that "Dutchess County [NY] truly is a melting pot of religious faiths -- and religious tolerance... 'In many ways the county is very diverse and it breeds tolerance,' said Michael Tori, a religion professor at Marist College... The county may be nearly three- fourths Roman Catholic, but not one faith dominates, he said... 'For the most part, there has been a very good-hearted attempt at tolerance among these diverse groups,' said the Rev. Bruce Chilton, rector of St. John the Evangelist in Barrytown and a religion professor at Bard College. He is also executive director of the Institute of Advanced Theology. 'When you consider the extent of diversity there is, there is remarkably little friction...' 'Interacting with people of other faiths makes you reflect,' Chilton said. 'To be in peaceful dialogue with others is extremely healthy. Any community... is enriched by the wisdom of all those varying traditions...' While there were numerous reports of bias against Muslims nationwide following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there was little of that in Dutchess, Tori said... The Dutchess Interfaith Council, which includes many local clergy, works hard to foster tolerance... The 96-member council was established in 1972, an outgrowth of the Dutchess County Council of Churches, which at the time was an organization of only Protestant churches. The council, which seeks to bring congregations together to address community issues, has a mailing list of 214 congregations."

(June 15, 2003, Poughkeepsie Journal, Online)

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