Christian Interfaith Reference Group (CIRG)


About the Christian Interfaith Reference Group

Established by The Canadian Council of Churches’ Governing Board in 2008, the Christian Interfaith Reference Group (CIRG) brings together CCC member churches to reflect ecumenically on issues of religious diversity and to encourage and resource ecumenical engagement with various religions, faiths, and spiritualties.

CIRG is a table for information-sharing, education, theological reflection, and relationship-building. Guiding principles include the call to educate, inform and resource CCC member churches and other bodies on interfaith matters, to work towards greater interfaith understanding and collaboration, and to do this work ecumenically as much as possible.

Our foundational work is in-house engagement among CCC member churches focusing on interfaith matters. CIRG also connects with interfaith partners to build relationships and establish foundations for addressing common concerns.

Historically, CCC / CIRG relate with several national and international interfaith bodies, including Canadian Interfaith Conversation, Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation, National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee, Parliament of the World’s Religions and Religions for Peace.

Current Program Priorities (2018-21)

Building on local and national connections between Christians and Muslims in Canada, CIRG helps member churches to deepen mutual understanding and positive relationships with Muslim neighbours and to counter anti-Muslim sentiments. In partnership with the National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee, CIRG is connecting with local Christian-Muslim organizations and groups to learn about their work, gather inspiring stories and innovative models for Muslim-Christian engagement, and facilitate peer-to-peer education and resource-sharing. We invite you to participate in this project via Mapping Diversity online survey. The fruits of this work will be published in an interactive online resource.

CIRG supports and resources an open, honest and representative consultation among CCC member churches to gain greater understanding of their theological and practical approaches to Christian-Jewish dialogue and relations. Through this process of ecumenical learning and reflection, we hope to discern ways forward for dialoging and working with our Jewish neighbours, both as individual churches and as a Council, particularly in the context of the Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation’s recent suspension. CIRG supports this work by educating CCC members about the breadth and variety of Jewish communities and organizations in Canada.

Given the increasing interest in interfaith engagement among the CCC member churches and in Canada, CIRG identifies and shares best principles, models, and experiences of interfaith encounters and collaboration in Canada. A curated online library of inspiring models and resources for interfaith relationship-building, dialogue, prayer and social outreach is forthcoming.

Recent Resources Developed by CIRG

Table with Passover seder and French lavendar

Resource: Holy Day Greetings to Our Jewish Neighbours (2021)

As a person of faith, are you interested in building relationships with Jewish neighbours? If so, this idea sheet may help you take a simple step: greeting your Jewish neighbours during the significant seasons of the Jewish calendar, particularly at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Pesach (Passover), and Hanukkah.

Read the full resource

Resources for Christian-Muslim Dialogue and Common Action: A Starter Library (in progress)

We are compiling a “starter library” of resources for Christian-Muslim dialogue and common action. We are currently updating and expanding this list, and would love to hear your suggestions or recommendations. Please email Maria Simakova, Program Coordinator, Christian Interfaith Relations, with your suggestions, comments, and questions.

church in downtown toronto

A Guide for Participation in Public Events Involving More than One Religious or Spiritual Tradition (forthcoming 2020)

In Canadian public life, there are significant events which can call upon the services of our diverse religious and spiritual leaders. These may be occasions of public celebration – locally, nationally, or internationally – or occasions of public mourning. There may be other occasions where the public is served by having their religious and spiritual leaders offering hospitality, inclusion and voice with a view to expressing sacred and significant experiences, which, among other aims, can provide a collective sense of healing and togetherness in moments of crisis. The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) offers the following guidance for the occasion of such public events whereby religious and spiritual leaders are called forward for their participation. Developed by the CCC Christian Interfaith Reference Group and adopted as a statement of the Council, this resource provides some suggestions for the planning and conducting of such public events whereby a variety of religious and spiritual leaders are invited to offer an official role. Acknowledging the religious diversity of our country and the importance and value of shared leadership, we wish to underscore that these reflections are coming forward from the Christian tradition and would need to be complemented by the perspectives of other religious and spiritual traditions.

Historical Highlights

The interfaith work of CCC member churches is guided by our mission to respond to Christ’s call for unity and peace, seek truth with affection for diversity, and act in love through prayer and dialogue. We cherish Canadian multicultural and multi-religious context and strive to know and work with our diverse neighbours.

Our member churches have unique lived experiences of interfaith dialogue, relationships, and common action. CIRG’s history and current work are rooted in these experiences. A significant moment in CIRG history – indeed, our very beginning – was a 2007 research project to survey the interfaith experiences and potential of CCC member churches. Through interviews with leaders in 20 member churches, we learned about each church’s interfaith engagements, practices, hopes and challenges. This journey became a fascinating pilgrimage, with candid responses reflecting a spectrum of involvement and positions.

The results of this research project were analysed and presented in our resource Who Is My Neighbour? As CIRG, we continue to discern how we might answer the calls, challenges, and recommendations expressed by our member churches. Our interfaith work and life has changed and grown since this resource had been published. Yet, in some crucial aspects, we continue walking together with one another – and with our neighbours from various religious, faith and spiritual traditions – along the paths discerned in this foundational piece of internal learning and reflection. We invite you to share this journey.

CIRG Members

  • Lt. Col. Jim Champ – Salvation Army
  • Dr. Paul Dekar – Religious Society of Friends
  • Rev. Fred Demaray – Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec
  • Kyle Ferguson – Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • Rev. Roshni Jayawardena – Anglican Church of Canada
  • Rev. Dr. Andrew Johnston – Presbyterian Church in Canada
  • Pastor Sylvia Poetschke – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
  • Byron Rempel-Burkholder – Mennonite Church Canada
  • Rev. Canon Dr. Scott Sharman – Anglican Church of Canada
  • Rev. Greg Sinclair (CIRG chair) – Christian Reformed Church in North America-Canada
  • Sonya Wu-Winter – United Church of Canada

Ex Officio

  • Maria Simakova – Program Coordinator, Christian Interfaith Relations
  • Kathy Vandergrift – CCC Vice-President
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