A Bright Spot in Buffalo

Rev. Dr. G. Stanford Bratton, Imam Fajri Ansari, and Rev. Francis X. Mazur
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com

by Carol Wolf

Cover Photo by Cheryl Gorski


The Network of Religious Communities is one of WNY’s brightest examples of:
· Collaboration
· Strengthening of Religious Communities
· Providing opportunities for cooperative ventures
· Working for the betterment of the community as a whole

In the 1980’s, according to a survey by the North American Interfaith Association, there were less than 12 interfaith organizations in the US. Since 9/11/01 there has been an explosion of groups forming.

Ahead of the Times
Buffalo was ahead of the times in 1998 when the Council of Churches and the Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries agreed to merge and become The Network of Religious Communities, located at 1272 Delaware Avenue. They became a network of denominations, congregations and religious organizations including Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian (Orthodox, Protestant, Roman Catholic), Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh and Unitarian.

At a time when we are reading about monies being wasted, spent unwisely and profiteering, this organization exists on an extremely limited budget and accomplishes a great deal. The difference is everyone has a passion for making a positive difference where it is needed most. Being willing to cooperate, actively learn more about each others faith, respect the core beliefs and integrity of each others religion and, most importantly, take action.

The Team

Imam Fajri Ansari, President
· Husband of Dr. LaVonne Ansari, Vice President of Niagara County Community College
· Three children
· Imam of Masjid Nu’man, 1373 Fillmore Ave. Buffalo –
o This is their 10th year working in the community. “Putting the Neighbor back in the ‘hood’ program.” They worked with the city for 4 years to restore the playground and basketball courts on Box Ave. so parents and grandparents have a place to take their children.
· President of the Network of Religious Communities
· New Basketball Coach at Buffalo State College
o He previously coached basketball at Turner Carroll High School during which the team won several New York State championships.
o He formerly served as economic opportunities officer at Buffalo State and worked in the admissions.
· Chaplain – Erie County Sheriff’s Dept.
· Several other boards and committees

Fr. Francis X. Mazur (Butch), Co-Exec. Director
· Pastor of St. Gerald’s, 1190 E. Delavan Ave., Buffalo-
· Part time Network of Religious Communities- Co Executive Director
· Part time Chaplain at ECMC
· Ecumenical Official for the Catholic Dioceses
· Co-chair – Faiths in the World Community, National Associations of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers – Great religions of the world (dialogue with all religions)
· Observer for the Catholic Bishops Inter-religious Community

Rev. Dr. G. Stanford Bratton (Stan), Co-Executive Director, COO

· Co-ordinates all of the ‘Networks’ programs
Bonnie Jehle, Financial Assistant

Current Programs


For five years Kelly Kowalski has been Food for All coordinator. Their mission is to find and implement solutions to the problem of hunger in WNY. Conducting nutrition outreach activities designed to improve access to food stamps and the summer meals program for children, providing hunger advocacy workshops for religious organizations and community human service agencies; and advocating for the poor through the Food for All Public Policy Network and the public media.

For 12 years Sally Giordano has been the coordinator of volunteers, the office and Church Women United. The Food Pantry is open 5 days a week from 9:30am to 1:00pm. They operate with 25-30 regular volunteers and can always use more.

The emergency food pantry provided emergency food for over 14,000 hungry persons in 2004. Through August 2005 the pantry served 2000 more persons than during the same period in 2004. The pantry operates by referral from social service and religious organizations. Food is received from local congregations, various governmental programs and purchased from the Food Bank of WNY.

Bruce Davidson is the Hunger Public Policy Coordinator


5 regular TV and radio programs which are broadcast over Buffalo area stations and cable systems.

Kaleidoscope – Peter Allen Weinmann often hosts this Multi-faith program-

Peter is an attorney with Wolfgang & Weinmann law firm. He previously was Chief of Narcotics in the Erie County District Attorney’s office. He is a Trustee at Temple Beth Zion, a Board member of the Jewish Federation of Buffalo, Past President and Board member of the American Jewish Committee and Vice Chair on the Human Rights Commission for the City of Buffalo.

Peter said, “I love hosting Kaleidoscope. It is wonderful exposure and interaction with people from all different walks of life who are passionate about their faith. This past month we had the opportunity to talk about the Jewish High Holy Days of October.”

When I asked him how he does everything, he laughed and said, “It isn’t easy sometimes, especially when you have a wife and 3 children under the age of 4”.

Challenge for the 21st Century – Rev. Dr. James A. Lewis III is one of the hosts.

James is an integral part of the community. He is Pastoral & Spiritual Care Director of ECMC. He is well known for his responsiveness as Chaplain with the Buffalo Police Dept for 10 years and the Sheriff’s Dept. for 2 years. He still has time to be Pastor of J.W. Loguen Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church for 14 years and Director of Vaughn House Emergency Shelter for Men, Associated with Ruth House – HIV/AIDS for women and children. Being a contributing member of the community is extremely important to him as he exhibits through service as: Chairman, City of Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals, National Conference of Community Justice, Buffalo Philharmonic, Board of Directors, Advocate for Sickle Cell Association of WNY and many more.

James says, “I have supported the Network of Religious Communities since its inception. I was a member of the Council of Churches, its forerunner and the Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries. I take great pride in sharing the Challenge TV talk show with my very capable co-hosts, Carol Wolf and Rev. Stan Bratton. I have learned much and thank God for the opportunity to address the Challenges for the 21st Century.”

Other media programs:
In Process

I.C.E. was established in 1990 to encourage and assist religious institutions of all faiths to reduce their energy consumption and costs, thereby conserving natural resources and making more funds available for community service.

Enabling individuals from various religious traditions to gather for increased understand and specific purposes. Both groups meet at 1272 Delaware Ave.

The Region-wide inter-religious conversation creates open dialogue regarding our area’s history and future as a community. Its purpose is to develop an inclusive vision that crosses social, geographic, religious, racial and ethnic boundaries. They are completing the third round of congregational conversation.

They provide chaplains for each week of summertime Boy Scout Camping. In addition they provide special retreats and guidance and oversight of the religious award process of scouting.

RIEFLER ENABLEMENT FUNDS (grants for creative community ministry)
Through the generosity of Mr.& Mrs. Raymond Riefler the Council of Churches was able to establish an ongoing invested fund which enables the Network to annually distribute over $40,000. to local congregations and religious organizations attempting new and creative community ministries. In 2005 the Riefler Fund provided grants of over $42,500.to 20 community ministries and in 2004 grants of over $42,000. to 18 community ministries.


The Network House continues to be a place where religious, denominational and community groups can meet. It presently provides a home for several denominational offices and service programs in addition to the Network programs.

Ecumenical / Inter religious Activities

Several community events are held each year to give concrete expression to cooperation.

· Multi-Faith Forums: These forums are a vehicle for Interfaith, Religious and Community issues of immediate concern to be discussed in and open, civil venue. Topics in 2004 included “The Iraq War. One Year Later”, “Prescription Drugs, Untangling the Knot”, Same Sex Marriage: What’s at Stake” and “The Elections: What’s at Stake.”

· The Annual Appreciation Dinner: In 2004 ’62 community saints’ were recognized for their service and contribution to the Buffalo area by the 500+ persons attending the 24th Annual Appreciation Dinner at the Hearthstone Manor. This interracial and inter religious event is the largest of its kind in the region.

· New Religious Leaders Luncheon: In October the Network sponsors a luncheon for all religious leaders new to the area. The purpose is to provide some basic orientation to the area and help new religious leaders make connections with each other across religious lines.

· Inter-Religious Dialogues: Facilitating dialogues between religious communities in WNY. “Religious Communities and Community Change” a dialogue with Dr. Dennis Castillo, Mr. Peter Weinmann, Dr. Khalid Qazi, Rev. Richard Stenhouse and moderated by Rev. Jeff Carter was held at the Network Annual MEETING November 11,2004.

· InterFaith/Intercultural Thanksgiving Service: An Annual Thanksgiving Service which will be held on November 22 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church 3105 Main St. 4:00 pm. Everyone is invited. Call 834-9337 for more information.

· Annual Yom Hashoah Commenmoration Service: Interfaith service in Remembrance of the Holocaust.

· Building Community Together: Muslims Jews and Christians in Historical Spain and Lessons they provide for our Multicultural Society Today. A major 4 day conference with nationally known Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars was held in December 2-5, 2004. There was over 100 people at each session.

· “Sharing Our Religious Traditions: A Festival of Faiths” On June 5,2005 was a Network sponsored event, open to all religious communities and the general public at which time 16 different religious traditions offered introductory workshops to their faith traditions. Each workshop was offered twice. The event was held at St. Amelia Church School in Tonawanda, NY


Crop Walks
The Network is a partner with Church World Service in sponsoring and facilitating annual CROP Walks throughout WNY. In 2004 funds raised in area CROP WALKS increased to over $80,000.

Through the newsletters “Network News”, “Ecu-voice” of Church Women United, “Food for All Newsletter” and the ICE Newsletter, the Network of Religious Communities reaches over 1000 congregations and 2500 individuals regularly.

Website: www.ReligiousNet.Org: The Network provides a wealth of information available to everyone with access to the internet. It includes current news items, up to date calendar, information about religious organizations in WNY, links to denominational websites and other sites of value to religious communities, the ability to download significant documents and a facilitated forum for on-line dialogues bout important issues.

“Many of our congregations are divided within themselves about financial, morality/sexuality and doctrinal issues.” explained Fr. Mazur, “There are declining numbers of people participating and therefore they begin to focus inward. They fall into a survival mentality. When they are approached to help with a ministry in the community, it’s not that they don’t want to help; they often are having difficulties trying to keep their own house in order. Many denominational offices are no longer located in Buffalo, they have regionalized, so it is often difficult to get consensus on issues or projects”.

Imam Ansari said, “We live in a religiously diverse community and world, yet we share common concerns. Concerns about food, poverty and education for the less fortunate in our community. People could dialogue forever and never get anything accomplished. We bring people of various religious backgrounds together and focus on projects and services we all can agree upon, service to humanity regardless of different practices or traditions. That way we get things done!”

Fr. Mazur and Rev. Bratton explained when the issue is difficult, for instance, pro-life, pro-choice, we can all agree on working for better adoptive services. It’s a matter of finding common ground. The challenge is to take the time to learn about each others religions and traditions. There is a lot of mis-information out there. But, when you have a chance to talk, you learn we are often more alike than different.

Vision - If you could look ahead 3-5 years from now, what would you like the ‘Network’ to be able to help facilitate in the community?

All three agreed they would like the Network to have more impact on critical issues:
· Education – that connects to all the other critical issues
· Poverty
· Housing
· Understanding
· Crime

First you have to have knowledge to address all the other issues. When you are not educated, when you have obstacles you may not know how to handle them.

We need to work at getting more projects accomplished. Less time talking about it, and yet, the talking is important to understanding.

Return to simplicity. Simplify our religious organizations. How can we help those that are most needy?

There’s something about praying together and getting to know each other that makes working for the common good easy.

Rev. Bratton said, “Development of fresh funding sources will be critical. We exist and function on contributions and grants. When others have financial problems, their funding to us is often times reduced.”

This is an organization of people who have their fingers on the pulse of the community.
· Who actively work for the betterment of the community
· Who provide opportunities to learn about other faith traditions and cultures
· Who intentionally look for Common Ground
· Who speak out on issues that would adversely affect the people in this community. Just recently the issue of Casino Gambling. A Press conference was held at the Network I heard a song that expresses what the ‘Network’ desires for WNY and the world.

O For a World

Words: Miriam Therese Winter

O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways,

Where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.

O for a world where goods are shared and misery relieved,

Where truth is spoken, children spared, equality achieved.

We welcome one world family and struggle with each choice

That opens us to unity and gives our vision voice.

The poor are rich, the weak are strong, the foolish ones are wise.

Tell all who mourn: outcasts belong, who perishes will rise.

O for a world preparing for God’s glorious reign of peace,

Where time and tears will be no more, and all but love will cease.

For more information, joining the Network, contributing or volunteering call: (716)882-4793, www.religiousnet.org

The Ministry of Presence- Fr. Mazur A compassionate Listener in the Trauma Unit at ECMC
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
The Holy Month of Ramadan: Somalia residents reading the Quaran.
Worshiping at the mosque
Fajri Ansari - new Basketball Coach of the Buffalo State College Bengals during a workout in Houston Gym..
Anti Casino Press Conference Rev. Bratton, Bishop Kmiec and Fr. Mazur
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Connecting to the Creator- Fr. Mazur anointing parishioners
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Connecting to the Creator- Fr. Mazur anointing parishioners
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Father Butch
At Work at the Food Pantry - Nancy Pawlik, Sally Giordano, Sally Ninos
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Kelly Kowalski- Coordinating hunger programs in WNY
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Peter Weinmann
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) Director of Pastoral Care Services Rev. Dr. James A. Lewis III offers invocation prayer during 10/5/05 news conference to recognize area police officers injured in the line of duty and treated in ECMC's Trauma Intensive Care Unit.
Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Conference at the Casino: Zaid Islam,
Muslim Public Affairs Council

Photo by www.cherylgorski.com
Rev. Stephen Phelps, Presbytery of Western New York
Rev. Merle Showers, United Methodist Church, New York Area
Rev. Joel Miller, Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo
Dr.Rev.G.Stanford Bratton
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