A tapestry woven with many colors is far more beautiful than one threaded with a single color. That’s the belief behind Tapestry Interfaith Women, the group of local, multi-faithed women who connect, learn about one another’s religious traditions and bond over community service. Understanding and celebrating differences held by community members is the vibrant message this group endorses.
Tapestry Interfaith Women was started by three Plymouth women: Leslee Jaeger of Messiah Methodist Church, Farhana Ali of Northwest Islamic Community Center and Peggy Fairbourne of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The women united shortly after the November Paris terror attacks, when there was an abundance of hateful rhetoric in the media surrounding the Muslim faith. Jaeger approached the Islamic Center with the idea to start an interfaith group and was connected to Ali. Around the same time, Fairbourne and Ali spoke about potential partnership opportunities. The three women forged a partnership through the shared intention of telling a different story between faiths.
“We were all a little bit grieved about what we were watching on the news and figured that we can change that narrative,” Fairbourne says. The group wanted to send a positive message of peace and interfaith acceptance to the community instead.
“I feel strongly that the best way to combat negative stereotypes is to get to know people on an individual basis,” Ali says. With monthly events that mix interfaith dialogue with service projects, there is plenty of space for the women to connect and forge new friendships. “I think working together to help others is a concept shared by many faiths,” Ali says. The women bond over a common goal of giving back to the community and through open conversations about each other’s religions.
“There wasn’t a second of quiet in my house,” Fairbourne says of the first event where the group met for a night filled with baking Christmas cookies and conversing on the holiday’s traditions. That first meeting consisted of five Mormon women, five Muslim women, four Methodist women and one Lutheran woman. “They were chatting like old sorority pals getting together for a reunion,” Fairbourne says.
Word of mouth travels quickly. In the first three months, the group grew from 15 to 64 on the mailing list. The audience continues to grow with a regularly updated Facebook page delivering the group’s updates and message of acceptance.
The group also has held various events discussing a variety of religious topics like the significance and traditions behind Lent and Easter as well as Ramadan. Depending on the event, they will congregate at churches around town or at the mosque.
And it’s not only the women who are open to connecting—the group hosts service projects uniting their teens, too. At a food drive for homeless youth held in February at the mosque, interfaith teens were organized into groups before venturing out into the city to fundraise. They left the mosque not knowing each other and returned smiling and laughing as friends. “The really cool thing is, the girl I met on the retreat, I didn’t know she was in my school,” says ninth-grader Emma West of the LDS church. As it turns out, the two share the same lunch hour. Now, when they see each other at school, they smile and say hello.
The hope is that these events will continue to connect more people from their various religious backgrounds. “People are trying to distance religions from each other rather than bringing them together. I think there are more similarities in religions than there are differences,” says Ali. Collectively, the group’s similarities often shine more prominently than their differences. But, the group celebrates those differences, too—it’s what makes the tapestry so brilliantly colorful.