The Faith Club of Carroll County, formed by the Carroll County InterFaith Council, has a consistent goal for its meetings: to provide adults with the opportunity to explore a broad spectrum of beliefs in an informative and respectful atmosphere.

"I was surprised and thrilled that such a group existed in Carroll County," participant Mike Davis wrote in an email interview. "My previous impression of the county was that it was religiously one-dimensional. The Faith Club teaches understanding, learning, respect and tolerance, qualities so desperately missing in our world. While so many practice bigotry and hate in the name of religion, this group celebrates our different beliefs and works to educate each other about different ideas. We have explored numerous religions from many perspectives. Everyone is free to respectfully express thoughts and opinions."

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He and his wife Cindy have been attending the Faith Club since its beginning in early 2011. He was raised Jewish and she was raised Christian. "We agree very little on the specifics of religion," Mike wrote of their relationship, "however we do agree on tolerance, learning and respect."

Participant Richard Tomarelli and his wife Kathy bring the perspective of their Baha'i faith to club meetings. On March 5, he presented the video "Education Under Fire," sharing the current condition of Iranian Baha'is as the Iranian government attempts to eliminate their faith from that country.

"During our April meeting we watched segments of a video on how three different religious groups - Jewish, Christian, Islamic - were using their understanding of their sacred scriptures to teach their members how to care for the environment and improve their health," Richard wrote in an email interview.

The Faith Club, introduced as a book club discussion series on faith traditions and practices, meets monthly, September through May - usually at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library.

The first book discussed by the group was "The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew - Three Women Search for Understanding," according to the Rev. Jerry Fuss, a retired United Church of Christ pastor who is the contact person for the Faith Club of Carroll County.

Referring to the book, Fuss wrote, "In the aftermath of the horrific events of 9/11 three women of diverse religious backgrounds shared a common concern about understanding people of other faiths and in helping their children to have some comprehension of faiths other than their own and the people who practice them." The theme of that first book mirrors what the local Faith Club is all about.

Mohamed Esa, a Muslim who attends Faith Club meetings, said, "Bridge-building activities like this can only bring positive things to a community. As my friend Ira Zepp always said: A bridge cannot exist with only one side. You are creating a way to talk about 'the other side' and when we do that we find out how much we have in common."

Fuss described the variety of topics addressed by the club. "We have had discussions centered on a designated book. Some [meetings] have utilized videos and documentaries. We did a session on writings by and about Mahatma Gandhi. We had the opportunity to have friends join us from the Greater Baltimore Hindu-Jain Temple for this particular session," he wrote. "We did a session on Buddhism using various library books for our information but were blessed by being joined and led in that session by a Buddhist practitioner and teacher."

Library Associate Bekye Eckert is the Carroll County Public Library liaison for the Faith Club meetings and frequently drops in. "We are a society of many different faiths. I believe education and communication play essential roles in fostering healthy relationships, breaking down barriers and broadening our understanding of universal human rights and values," she wrote in an email interview. "Libraries are often thought of as welcoming, nonthreatening places for people to gather information and learn, so reading books or viewing films from the library's collection and participating in the Faith Club discussions are accessible ways for Carroll County residents to learn more about other faiths."

"It's a chance to meet and discuss issues with people of various faiths," Cindy Davis wrote, "and to speak to them as individuals rather than through the eyes of some of the stereotypes we form from things we hear in the news."

"This group has added to my body of religious and cultural knowledge," Mike Davis wrote. "Exploring so many religions, even some I had never heard of before, from various angles has been very enriching. After each meeting I always feel that I have learned something important."

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