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Council closes gap among religions

Though some of their beliefs are as different as night and day, their goal is the same. The Interfaith Council of Citrus County members want to bridge the communication gap among themselves and their religions.

"In a time where there is more and more diversity in our society and religions, we need to have conversations across religious lines," said the Rev. Richard B. Ribble, president of the council and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Crystal River. "So our purpose is to communicate with each other, try to understand each other's traditions and backgrounds and work together to try and make our community a family."

The council was started about four years ago and has about 40 members representing several faiths including Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish, Bahai, Hindu, Buddhist, Methodist and Episcopalian.

Although the majority of religions in Citrus County are represented in the council, Ribble, 64, said there are still a few who have not chosen to join the group. He said the reason for this is twofold.

"There are people in almost every denomination that would not want to be a part of a group like this, because somehow they feel their religious beliefs might be compromised. Also, some groups are very strict in their beliefs and would probably feel that someone of different religious persuasion would have very little to say to them," he said.

Ribble said his view toward the council would have been the same 30 years ago.

"As a young person, I came out of a strict fundamentalist background. I doubt I would have had little sympathy for an interfaith viewpoint at that time in my life. However, I lived in Japan for seven years after starting in the ministry and that brought me to the realization that our world is one world, despite our many differences. All of the problems we see to a degree come back to one deepest and profound belief, which is how you might define religion," he said.

Ribble said council members, although diverse in their definition of religion, "believe that as a religious group we reflect the image of God in the world and more than anything else we believe that image needs to be understood as the one who creates and sustains all human beings as a community."

The council, which meets monthly, hosts speakers representing different religions and organizations. Last month, for example, a Hindu spoke to the council.

"I thought he gave a very clear and lucid presentation of what Hindus believe, perhaps as clear as any presentation I have heard before. This doesn't mean that my beliefs as a Christian are diminished or compromised, but I can see where my friends from a different religious persuasion are coming from," Ribble said.

He also said he invites members of any religion to attend council meetings. The annual cost of an individual membership is $5. Religious organizations can also join the council for $15 a year. The proceeds are used to help the cost of bringing in guest speakers.

The next guest, Times columnist Jan Glidewell, will speak at 7:30 p.m. March 10, at theFirst National Bank in Meadowcrest. For more information, call 795-2259.