We recently had the opportunity to catch up with long-term Habitat supporter and community partner, John Barr. We came to know John through his volunteer work on construction with First Presbyterian Church. Since then, he has remained involved with our organization as a member of our Interfaith Builds committee as well as through the Consultation of Religious Communities where John currently serves as Communications Secretary. We were most excited to learn that John is a poet!
IVHFH: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is one interest/hobby that people are usually surprised to learn about you?
John Barr: Composing haiku
Requires concise expression
From this verbose guy
IVHFH: You are Professor Emeritus in Physical Therapy at St. Ambrose University, where you tenured for over twenty years, and you were a faculty member at the University of Iowa before that. What values and beliefs as a clinician, a researcher, and a professor inspired your religious community agency work, and vice-versa?
John Barr: My personal values of compassion, interest in social justice, and stewardship of personal and natural resources have inspired most of my community work.
IVHFH: Do you remember your first experience as a faith community advocate for social and economic justice?
John Barr: One of the projects of the Servanthood Ministry at First Presbyterian Church, Iowa City, was to help address food insecurity through Table to Table and the Free Lunch Program (FLP). I was involved in fundraising for both organizations and continue to serve as a FLP volunteer.
IVHFH: How would you describe the impact that had in your life, and how did that change your outlook on things?
John Barr: The Free Lunch Program partnered me with a range of volunteers from other local faith communities and allowed me to directly interact with individuals who received our meals. It opened my eyes to this real need that many caring individuals in our community were also striving to meet.
IVHFH: You are currently the Consultation of Religious Communities (CRC) Communications Secretary. How would you describe your current role, and what CRC programs are you working on at the moment, or planning for the near future.
John Barr: The primary duties of the Communications Secretary are to oversee our Google Group network and website (www.crc-ic.org). Group members from faith communities and local service agencies/organizations receive regular notifications about social justice issues, lectures/educational programs, and volunteer needs. The CRC hopes to add a “portal” for community volunteer opportunities on our website.
IVHFH: What is your favorite part of your work at the Consultation, and what is the part of your work that you least enjoy?
John Barr: I do enjoy the daily ritual of sharing information via the Google Group; least enjoyable, with my limited skills, is attempting to keep our website up-to-date.
IVHFH: Give us one or two more recent examples of your work with communities of faith that illustrate why interfaith dialogue is key to success for different religious communities in Johnson County.
John Barr: Gabe Martin oversees the Interfaith Committee of the Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity. Participating representatives from local Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith communities have worked with Gabe to review national Habitat interfaith resources in order to develop a worksite orientation manual, promotional materials, and formats for devotions at worksite groundbreaking ceremonies, workdays, and dedication ceremonies. In 2019, two Interfaith Build homes were constructed on Blazing Star Drive in Iowa City, through the diligent work of hundreds of interfaith volunteers. I have had the honor of serving as the First Presbyterian Church and CRC representative for these projects which resulted in joyful outcomes.
IVHFH: During these particularly challenging times, not only through COVID, but also with misinformation spread in news media, spikes in hate crime, and a growing perceived mistrust of public institutions, what can interfaith dialogue do to help bridge that social and economic divide in our communities today.
John Barr: I believe that this divide is fueled by fear and lack of opportunities for members of diverse faith communities to meaningfully interact. While dialogue certainly is important to eliminating this divide, there is much to be gained through working shoulder to shoulder on community projects (e.g., Habitat home building), sharing culturally diverse meals, and together celebrating the successful completion of these projects.
IVHFH: Finally, what do you find is quite unique about the faith communities in Johnson County that could inspire other religious communities all across Iowa and the Midwest?
John Barr: Our organization was originally founded in the late 1960s as the Ecumenical Consultation by exclusively Christian churches in Iowa City. In 1996, at the request of faith communities other than Christian, membership was open to all faiths and we became the Consultation of Religious Communities. It is my belief that intellectual and spiritual curiosity, respect for other faith traditions, sincere concern for the welfare of members of our community, and the desire to celebrate our common accomplishments have been important motivators for our faith communities. I prayerfully envision that these and additional factors could be inspirational to faith communities throughout our country during these challenging times.
Want to learn more about the Consultation of Religious Communities of Iowa City? Or interested in getting involved? Visit their website at https://www.crc-ic.org/.