A brief history of CIC

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2006-2011 — The International Interfaith Initiative
  • Establishment of the International Interfaith Initiative as a project of the Peace Learning Center
  • Two interfaith trips to the Middle East
  • Multi-faith Youth Dialogue
  • Four conferences
  • Move to the Indiana Interchurch Center
  • The Center for Interfaith Cooperation is legally established
Charlie Wiles in an interfaith trip to the Mid East
Yuval Ron concert
2007 Youth Dialogue participants
Klaus Martin Finzel

The Center for Interfaith Cooperation has always been based on many existing interfaith initiatives in Central Indiana. A German philanthropist, Klaus Martin Finzel, gathered together many leaders of these organizations to inspire them with a vision of an international interfaith center for peace and education in Indianapolis. Two Charlies — Charlie Wiles and Charlie McDonald — accepted Klaus’s challenge.

The result was the International Interfaith Initiative (III), which from 2006-2011 was a program of the Peace Learning Center, where Charlie Wiles worked. III began many projects that have continued with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation. For instance, one of the first major projects for III was a series of interfaith youth dialogues of middle school students visiting one another’s places of worship. The inspiration for these dialogues continues today with the InterfaithYouth Ambassador Program. Films shown with Heartland Films formed the basis of A New View Film Series. The International Interfaith Initiative formed partnerships connecting academic researchers with hands-on practitioners.


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2012 — CIC begins operations
  • Partnership on film series of Heartland Films
  • Symposium on “Sharia beyond the Headlines”
  • Partnership with Ball State to “green” the Interchurch Center
  • Rally for Unity on Monument Circle after the murder six of Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin
  • Interfaith Pilgrimage — Cree Sweat Lodge
Rally for Unity
Sharia beyond the Headlines
Greening the Interchurch Center


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2013 — First Festival of Faiths
  • The Immigrants and Refugees Service Corps, an AmeriCorps program run by CIC, launched
  • First World Refugee Day with the Burmese-American Community Institute at Indy Urban Acres
  • First Summer Youth Camp at the Interchurch Center for the last two weeks of July
  • October 13 — First Indy Festival of Faiths at Veterans Memorial Plaza
Indy Festival of Faiths

Community Youth Forum at the 2019 Indy Festival of Faiths

CIC’s first annual signature event every year is the Indy Festival of Faiths, one of the Midwest’s largest one-day celebrations of religious diversity and vitality. Inspired in part by the Louisville Festival of Faiths and previous International Interfaith Initiative events, the Indy Festival of Faiths has been an effective way spreading ideas of religious celebration and mutual education.

Procession of Faiths in the 2013 Indy Festival of Faiths

Since it began in 2012, the Indy Festival of Faiths has featured several elements that build a sense of camaraderie and a desire to learn about each other. All have been held at the Indiana Veterans Plaza and the Indiana War Memorial. Festivals start with a Drumming Circle that draws everyone together. A Procession of Faiths of religious groups and congregations wends its way through the Festival to the Sacred Arts Stage, where the Festival is blessed by representatives of many faith traditions. The Sacred Arts Stage then is the venue for several world-class performances by many local artists.

Each year’s Festival has been unique. Some have included Community Youth Forums and Social Awareness Table Conversations inside the War Memorial; spaces for yoga and meditation; an Authors’ Fair; exhibits by local artists whose work has been shaped by their faith; discussions by religious and civic leaders inside the War Memorial. The next Indy Festival of Faiths is scheduled for September 13, 2020.

KP Singh in the drumming circle
Religious leaders opening the Festival
Sikhs perform on the Sacred Arts Stage
The launching of CIC’s AmeriCorps program

In 2012, CIC launched the Immigrant & Refugee Service Corps, an AmeriCorps program that placed members in host sites around Indianapolis.

The world premiere of Zabur
ISC executive director Michael Pettry, CIC director Charlie Wiles, composer Mohammed Fairouz, CIC founding board chair Don Knebel, Desmond Tutu Center director Waseema Ali

On April 24 Indianapolis witnessed the world premiere of the oratorio “Zabur,” a work by Mohammed Fairouz, widely considered the top composer under the age of 30 on the planet. “Zabur” was a gift to Indianapolis, and not only because it is an important piece of art. “Zabur” led to greater attention to the Book of Psalms, the collection of 3000-year-old verses viewed as sacred by all three Abrahamic faiths.

Shortly after the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir commissioned Fairouz to compose the oratorio, CIC gathered groups of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders to discuss the sensitivities and opportunities of bringing together three faiths that view David/Daoud and his Psalms very differently. On April 21, the Center for Interfaith Cooperation hosted a community celebration of Psalms in visual art, music, and spoken word (Fairouz himself came to the Interchurch Center straight from the airport).

Alfan helped the Choir with Arabic pronunciation
Mohammed Fairouz at the Interchurch Center
Womanpriest Maria McClain’s hymnal of the Psalms


2014 — Consolidation of Programs
  • Partner with the Interchurch in presenting St. John’s Bible exhibit
  • September 7 — Second Indy Festival of Faiths. First Community Youth Forum.
2015 — First Interfaith Banquet
  • January 22 — First Interfaith Banquet held at Christian Theological Seminary. CIC board chair Don Knebel named Interfaith Ambassador of the Year. The Yuval Ron Ensemble performed.
  • February 28 — Syrian refugee Friendship Feast
  • Sacred Spaces Tour includes Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana, and Al-Huda Foundation
  • CIC partners with SPEA students on a multicultural “Welcome to Indianapolis” feast
  • East African women’s exercise and nutrition program
  • Clergy badge program started
  • August 30 — Third Indy Festival of Faiths with the theme of “Weddings.” First Social Awareness Table Conversations. Partnership of the Festival with the Children’s Museum exhibit Sacred Journeys
  • Launch of Living Room Dialogues
  • Launch of A New View Film Series in partnership with Butler University’s Center for Faith & Vocation and the Desmond Tutu Center
  • Prof. Ian McIntosh partners with CIC to launch the Indianapolis Spiritual Trail
  • Partnership with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir on the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s oratorio Zabur
2016 — Visit of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
  • Second Interfaith Banquet
  • Beauty in Dark Times — Discussing and performing the work of Arvo Pärt
  • Interfaith celebration of MLK’s birthday
  • Beginning of Death Cafés with Indianapolis Pagan Community Outreach and Development
  • CIC helps organize an interfaith bicentennial celebration of Indiana’s Statehood Day at the Indiana Fairgrounds Coliseum
  • Fourth Indy Festival of Faiths
  • June 25 — CIC, Indianapolis Buddhist Center, and Compassionate Indy host a talk by the Dalai Lama at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds Coliseum
  • CIC partners with Rep. Andre Carson a series of “emergency preparedness for congregation” workshops
  • CIC hosts an exhibit of “Birds of Longing,” an exhibition of tapestries inspired by the Convivencia in Medieval Spain
  • “Forum of Neighbors” addresses sanctuary cities and sanctuary congregations
2017 — Launch of the Interfaith Coalition for Mental Health
  • Third Annual Interfaith Banquet
  • CIC helps organize a press awareness-raising campaign against a prominently displayed Islamophobic billboard
  • CIC produces a video about “Culturing for Nonviolence: Religious Families, Community and the Power of Diversity” for Spirit & Place
  • CIC participates in the International Festival for the first time.
  • Fifth Indy Festival of Faiths stormy day
  • CIC and OBAT Helpers collaborate on an interfaith iftar to raise awareness and funds for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
  • A partnership between CIC and the Nationa Alliance for Mental Illness established the Interfaith Mental Health Coalition (it was soon renamed the Interfaith Coalition for Mental Health)
2018 —
2019 — Launch of CIC 2.0
2020 — Great Expectations

2012-2020 — The Indy Festival of Faiths

KP Singh in the drumming circle
Religious leaders opening the Festival
Sikhs perform on the Sacred Arts Stage

Community Youth Forum at the 2019 Indy Festival of Faiths

2015-2020 — Annual Interfaith Banquet

Interfaith Banquet, 2016

CIC’s second annual signature event is the Annual Interfaith Banquet. The purpose of the Indy Festival of Faiths is to connect a wide array of Central Indiana residents to the region’s congregations and community organizations. The Interfaith Banquet, by contrast, brings the city’s religious, educational, and civic leaders together.

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  • 2015 — Don Knebel
  • 2016 — KP Singh
  • 2017 — Sr. Norma Rocklage
  • 2018 — Rabbi Dennis and Rabbi Sandy Sasso
  • 2019 — Imam Michael “Mikal” Saahir
  • 2020 — Betty Brandt


Each Banquet includes; music performances by internationally-renowned artists such as Carrie Newcomer and the Yuval Ron Ensemble; a sumptuous vegetarian feast; the honoring of an Interfaith Ambassador of the Year. Every Banquet has drawn more people than the year before, and each has sold out. It is CIC’s main fundraiser.

The next Interfaith Banquet will be March 8, 2020, at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. It will honor the Interfaith Ambassador of the Year, Betty Brandt of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

2017 Interfaith Ambassador of the Year Sr. Norma with members of the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance

2012-2020 — AmeriCorps Program

The Immigrant & Refugee Service Corps (IRSC) was an AmeriCorps program hosted by CIC. IRSC mobilized community support to increase services to newcomers and others in Central Indiana.

IRSC members, 2015

IRSC members specifically focused on developing and disseminating information providing immigrant and refugee families with better access to healthcare and wellness services. Members have taken the lead in formulating the Ethnic Self-Help Charter, which identified mental health as an urgent need for newcomers.

IRSC members working with young refugees from Burma at the 2013 World Refugee Day of Service

The IRSC program began in 2012 with ten members hosted in eight different community organizations. The second year of the program grew to twelve members, and IRSC’s success in extending health services to newcomers in Central Indiana led to the addition of two host organizations, the National Alliance for Mental Illness and the Cancer Support Community. An indication of the IRSC’s success: Ben Leslie began as an IRSC member; he became is the IRSC program director.

In 2018 the IRSC was renamed the Interfaith Enrichment Corps. The Center for Interfaith Cooperation’s program goals were expanding to include the various community efforts of faith groups. It aligns with CIC’s network of faith communities (who serve every day to make their communities better), and was already the primary way the AmeriCorps program served with and learned from newcomer communities.

Interfaith Enrichment Corps members at a biweekly enrichment meeting in 2019

Interfaith Coalition for Mental Health

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ICMH lunches take place at at the Indiana Interchurch Center (1100 W. 42nd St.) the third Wednesday of each month


In 2017 the Center for Interfaith Cooperation partnered with the National Alliance for Mental Health to form the Interfaith Coalition for Mental Health. The ICMH brings together clergy and laypersons, mental health professionals, and concerned members of the community to discuss issues of urgent concern. ICMH organizes monthly luncheons discussing topics such as prison mental health, teen suicide, and domestic abuse. In addition to monthly luncheon, ICMH partners with other groups on special events such as the ICMH Neighborhood Cluster Program for Butler-Tarkington area Feb. 10, 2020.

ICMH luncheons

Cohort training and workshops

CIC board member Anita Joshi leads a discussion with a cohort of Eli Lilly employees during a tour of the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana

Since its beginning, CIC helps organize interfaith educational and community programs virtually every week. Almost all are in partnership with other organizations. Examples include:

  • A Speaker’s Bureau featuring more than two dozen leading experts on different faiths and religions.
  • An Interfaith Lecture Series in partnership with several universities, which brings nationally renowned scholars to Indianapolis.
  • Sacred Spaces Tour of places of worship, which in the spring and summer has exposed hundreds of Hoosiers to congregations of different faiths.

In 2019, the Center for Interfaith Cooperation has brought these and other programs together to provide a series of discussions and workshops. Multi-faith cohorts of people to spend a half dozen or more sessions learning about different faiths and connecting with one another. These can be organized for companies, school classes, congregations, and other groups. For instance, employees from Eli Lilly have had tours of sacred spaces such as Masjid al-Fajr mosque and the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana.

Feedback from the cohort of Eli Lilly employees after visiting Masjid al-Fajr

“It was wonderful and I can’t wait to learn more about the Muslim faith. I am now enlightened, and will share my experience with EVERYONE!”

“People were most welcoming, it was a great experience to sit in on Friday services. There were similarities and differences between my own religious experiences.”

“I feel more comfortable around Muslims/Islamic people. This was a great experience, and I look forward to more.”

Interfaith Youth Ambassador Program

Summer Youth Camp

A New View Film Series

World Refugee Day of Service

Interfaith Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday

Visit to Indianapolis by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama