By Chris Barbieri

The Sandy Springs Interfaith Clergy Association (SSICA) is one of the lowest-profile and yet strongest community groups in Sandy Springs. Representing 13 congregations throughout Sandy Springs, nearly 30 pastors, priests, rabbis and chaplains are invited to meet monthly for discussion and fellowship. The meeting location rotates among the congregations to facilitate discussion and learning about the different faith traditions.

Meaningful friendships are essential to the group’s success. Rabbi Mario Karpuj of Congregation Or Hadash says he participates in SSICA because “it allows me to interact in a meaningful way with other clergy brothers and sisters in our city.”

Carol Strickland of Mount Vernon Presbyterian says, “The new friendships, collegiality, cross-education and annual joint Thanksgiving worship service have all been a joy.”

“No one can lead from a place of isolation. … Our clergy association widens my circle beyond my parish, my tradition and my practice,” says Alison Schultz of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church.

The mission of SSICA has five components. SSICA desires to reach out to clergy and congregations of all faiths in Sandy Springs. SSICA clergy seek to enjoy fellowship and build meaningful relationships with one another while deepening the understanding of their faith traditions. The clergy look for opportunities to build connections and understanding among our congregations. They offer spiritual and religious witness and prayerful support to the community.

SSICA also seeks to prophetically speak out on social justice issues in the community. An SSICA member also can be found at every City Council meeting, as the group is responsible for giving the invocation before each meeting.

Strengthening the sense of community in Sandy Springs is vitally important to SSICA members. Rabbi Ron Segal of Temple Sinai says: “Transforming Sandy Springs from a city of individuals into a welcoming and supportive community of citizens requires both attention and intention. I believe strongly that our faith communities play an important task in this endeavor. The committed clergy in SSICA are helping to build bridges between congregations that will continue to yield many blessings for the future of Sandy Springs.”

Rabbi Brad Levenberg, also of Temple Sinai, says, “My work with SSICA counters the cultural practices of polarization, isolation and building walls. It has resulted in cooperation, sharing and appreciation between our faith communities.”

During 2008, issues such as the water shortage, homeless ministry, immigration and conflict resolution in our community have been discussed.

At its most recent meeting, members discussed the local impact of the economic crisis with Tamara Carrera, executive director of the Community Action Center (CAC). The SSICA churches and synagogues all agreed to seek additional assistance for CAC within their congregations. The CAC was founded in 1987 by 10 area churches, many of which are active in SSICA.

On Tuesday, Nov. 25, SSICA will conduct its annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Worship Service at 7 p.m. A different congregation hosts the service each year, and Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church is the 2008 host. The service will contain Christian and Jewish elements, and the Rev. Phil Price of Sandy Springs Christian Church will give the sermon. A light supper will be provided at 6 p.m.

As an expression of thankfulness, canned and shelf goods will be collected for the CAC food pantry.

Congregations participating in SSICA are Apostles Lutheran Church, Congregation B’nai Torah, Congregation Or Hadash, First Baptist of Sandy Springs, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, North Springs United Methodist Church, Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, St. John United Methodist Church, Sandy Springs Christian Church, Sandy Springs United Methodist Church and Temple Sinai.

(No Muslim congregations meet in Sandy Springs, so SSICA does not have any imams participating at this time.)

For more information about SSICA, contact me at 404-255-1181.

The Rev. Chris Barbieri is the associate pastor at Sandy Springs United Methodist Church.