Many of us have lived through the best and the worst of times in our country’s history.

I grew up in the turbulent ’60s, when a lot of people were at odds with one another, not so much based on personal behavior, but on the color of their skin or their religious beliefs. We fought hard to rectify this, but sadly, there is still too much inability or refusal to walk in another’s shoes. But, for every unkind action there are usually a hundred kind reactions, and this article is about the latter.

Women of Faith is a small but mighty group in east Contra Costa County, made up of mostly ladies from Pittsburgh to Discovery Bay. Started in 2016 by Margo Olson, Sandy Heinich, and Chris Shiber – who was the minister at the Byron Methodist Church at the time – their focus has been on bringing our community together.

The three women talked about what they could do to unite different faiths by better understanding the various traditions and beliefs.

I spoke with co-founder Margo Olson, who says by discussion and openness, we can enrich lives and avoid conflict with open communication. Novel idea? According to Olson, conflict happens when there is a lack of this kind of understanding.

Her inspiration for the group started when she attended an International Women’s Day Panel in Danville, where she heard six women, each representing different religions, share how their faith and traditions impacted their lives. After the presentation, they met informally in small groups, where she had the opportunity to talk with a Muslim woman.

The lady shared how difficult it had been for her college-age son to cope with some bigotry while he was away at school. With a son of her own about the same age, Olson commiserated on the challenge of raising children. The two women spoke about faith and realized they had more in common than not.

Many friendships were sparked that day, and the impact of the panel was such that she wanted to bring a similar experience to the women of East Contra Costa County.

Later on, Olson met Pastor Shiber at a wedding she was officiating. Not long after, she was introduced to Heinich of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. Both of these amazing women were willing to join in planning meetings, and soon found the numbers and interest was growing. It wasn’t long before the meetings evolved into faith sharing, where they could discuss different perspectives on the impact of faith in their lives.

Eventually, they were joined by Rochelle and Ava from B’nai Torah Jewish congregation in Brentwood and Dahlia Ibrahim from the Muslim congregation. These women broadened the perspectives and brought much joy to the meetings. Even now, all are welcome to attend the monthly meetings, with the goal of finding something in each religion that can be emulated to strengthen each other’s faith.

Each agenda has the following quote from the late Krister Stendahl, Emeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and Professor Emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, “Establish three rules for religious understanding. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies; don’t compare your best to their worst; and leave room for ‘holy envy’ by finding elements in other faiths to emulate. These principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.”

Overall, the goal of the Women of Faith is to enrich the lives and strengthen the faith of the women in East Contra County through building a clear understanding, and by doing so, increase the faith of individuals and strengthen their communities. By opening their hearts and minds, they find more common ground than differences. Though they call themselves Women of Faith, several men have joined as well.

The world is filled with angst and fear at times, so this group reflects the goodness when we welcome each other with open hearts and minds.

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at marla2054@aol.com.

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