Program promotes interfaith understanding: The Red Bench encourages discussion among faith communities


Have you ever wanted to ask someone a question about his or her religion or beliefs, but didn’t for fear of coming off as rude? The Red Bench is a fix for this common dilemma. 

The Red Bench is an ongoing dialogue program designed to address improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in society. Conversations are centered on moderated small group discussions that are respectful and safe. The Red Bench has been taking place in Austin for years, but the first-ever Cedar Park session will take place next month.

Bonnie How, an associate pastor of Cedar Park First United Methodist Church, is hosting next month’s session.

“Each Red Bench has a topic,” How said. “The next topic is community. I feel like we need this topic because of the current political climate.” 

How said participants of all faiths, or no faith, are welcome to share from their personal experiences and to ask questions. The format is structured and allows each individual to be heard. Each table is hosted by one or two table hosts.

“It is not a place to get into confrontation or to get offended,” she said. 

How has been attending Red Benches for quite some time and has had the opportunity to learn from the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Unitarian, Sikh and Christian communities. She became involved with The Red Bench after her family’s move from Canada proved to be a huge culture shock. 

“One of the things I miss most was the diversity in my community,” How said. “When we moved to Cedar Park we didn’t see a lot of diversity here and it was really white.”

She said that in seminary, she took an introduction to Islam class that sparked her curiosity on the Muslim community. When telling a fellow church member about a book she was reading for her course, several other study group members expressed interest in learning more about Islam. How reached out to the Islamic Center of Brushy Creek and the congregation invited her entire study group for a meal and a discussion.

“Think of how many opportunities we miss of sharing our culture and traditions with each other because we are scared to ask questions,” she said. 

The Red Bench will hold several conversations in Cedar Park this year, each quarter there will be one hosted by a different congregation.

Next month’s conversation will take place at Cedar Park First United Methodist Church on Feb. 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 

These events are free and open to all. Every conversation includes a light vegetarian meal.

The Red Bench is a program of the Interfaith Action of Central Texas, an organization with the intent of building healthy relationships between the faith communities of Central Texas.

Visit for more information of Cedar Park events.