Speakers look at prayer and the three Abrahamic faiths

Father Robert Schneider of St. Stephen Catholic Church will speak at the Thursday event.
Father Robert Schneider of St. Stephen Catholic Church will speak at the Thursday event.
Published April 7, 2016

Considered the father of the world's three main monotheistic religions, the historical figure Abraham crosses faith lines like no other.

Abraham, who appears in Islamic, Judaic and Christian teachings, has for centuries provoked interfaith conversation worldwide.

On Thursday, the Atlantic Institute in partnership with the Istanbul Cultural Center at Tampa Bay, will host the Table of Abraham, a panel discussion featuring prominent Florida religious leaders.

Each speaker will take 10 minutes to talk on the night's topic: The importance of prayer in the Abrahamic traditions.

The Rev. Russel Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches; Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida; Rabbi Garson Herzfeld of Temple Beth Shalom in Sarasota; and Father Robert Schneider, pastor at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico, will participate.

This marks the third year the Istanbul Cultural Center, a nonprofit organization established by the South Florida Turkish Community, will host the event.

"With these events, people can get together, one-to-one, in a peaceful environment to sit around the same table to discuss common points and promote friendship," said Oguz Cimenler, outreach coordinator for the Institute and Cultural Center. "Also, they can learn from each other directly by having a conversation."

Cimenler said the Atlantic Institute's Board of Directors selected Abraham's Table participants, then formally invited each via email.

As the ecumenical and interfaith director for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Schneider takes great interest in open communication among sometimes conflicting religions.

"I participate (in interfaith discussions) to share with colleagues and also to learn more myself," Schneider said.

"At this event, we will consider how important prayer is, especially in the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam," he said. "This is relevant today because we must seek paths of peace through dialogue. Abraham and the concept of prayer are touchstones for all of us in this effort."

The Atlantic Institute, which operates branches in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, presents Table of Abraham events throughout the South. Current discussions include: How Does Faith Respond to Extremism, Service to Humanity in Abrahamic Faiths and the role of Women in Abrahamic Traditions.

In addition, the Institute promotes other interfaith efforts to bridge the gap between believers and defy stereotypes.

"We know that we are all different, but we believe that each human being is the art of God," Cimenler said. "That's why, even though we are different, we have to respect each other to be able to respect his art. We believe that God made us nations and tribes that we may know each other."

The Tampa Bay event begins at 6:30 p.m. April 14 at the Istanbul Cultural Center, 2166 W Busch Blvd., Tampa. The event is free, but reservations are required.

Register at

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