The idea for an interfaith forum at Rocky Mountain College came out of a conversation between Rocky’s chaplain and the local Jewish rabbi.
“I was talking with Rabbi Barbara Block,” said the Rev. Kim Woeste, chaplain at the Billings college since last August. “She said, ‘I wish I had the opportunity to tell people these things I wish they knew about Judaism.’ ”
Woeste jumped on the idea and organized the forum that will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the chapel on Rocky’s campus. The event is free and open to the public.
Woeste decided to invite people of other faiths to round out the panel. They include:
-- Shila Mani, a student of Mahayana Buddhism for 30 years, who is known more commonly as Barbara Shenkel. She and her husband and son moved to Billings in 1971 and in 1976 opened Barjon’s Books, which the family sold in 2010.
-- Anna Nentwig, who has been a member of the Billings Unitarian Universalist Fellowship since 2005. She worked there for several years as director of Children’s Religious Exploration, served on the Outreach Committee and presented occasional services.
-- Mary Williams, who has served for four years as the director of the Billings Catholic Campus Ministry for students at Rocky and Montana State University Billings. She is passionate about Catholic spirituality and molding students into Christ-like leaders.
-- Barbara Block, who was ordained in 2010 at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. She has served Congregation Beth Aaron in Billings for two and a half years. She enjoys the diversity of Jewish viewpoints that come together in the only synagogue to serve Eastern Montana, northern Wyoming and the western Dakotas.
Woeste said it is one thing to read about different faiths in a book, and something else entirely to learn from a person.
“Any time you can put an interfaith dialogue out there it’s really important,” Woeste said. “Even if you don’t agree with other people’s beliefs, it helps to have an understanding of it. I think we have a whole lot more in common than we know.”
In the first hour of the forum, speakers will talk about their beliefs. The second hour will engage the audience and speakers in a question-and-answer session.
Woeste said she plans to organize at least one religion forum per semester next year.