Helen Summers was a newly ordained Interfaith Minister when she returned to Australia in 1998. There were few inter-religious organizations in Melbourne at that time and only one had events for non-members of their organization: the Multifaith Network of the City of Greater Dandenong. Helen saw the need of establishing an Interfaith Centre, which would operate as a full-time Centre rather than an organization which meets occasionally or monthly. Educational and cultural programs and events for people of diverse religions and none were seen as necessary for people to understand each other and overcome misunderstandings. Helen also saw a need in the wider community for people who might be searching to learn more about ‘the other’ and develop their own spiritual path.
As a result, Helen Summers founded The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne (ICM) in 2000 and later with a small committee, formally established the Centre as an educational and cultural non-profit organization in 2003. The Centre’s programs included Ceremonies for the Work of the United Nations, Ceremonies for World Peace, seminars, forums, prayer and meditation events, visual art exhibitions, and the sacred arts.
Arts and culture became a prominent part of the Centre’s programs with the premiere event in 2003, A Shining Example: The Golden Age of Spain pre 1492 produced with St Michael’s Uniting Church interfaith committee and in 2004 In Search of Al-Andalus: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Glorious Culture, produced with the Jewish Museum of Australia.
The Rumi Concert with acclaimed translator of Rumi’s poetry, Coleman Barks, and story dancer Zuleika, attracted over 700 hundred people. Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World, from the National Gallery of Jordan drew many thousands of people to view the exhibition and attend the floor talks and forums in Melbourne and Shepparton. The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne accepted an invitation from the Director of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies in Jordan, to participate in the Second World Congress in Middle Eastern Studies with a cultural program from Australia. Helen Summers produced Philip Glass’ Voices for Didgeridoo, Organ and Narrator with the assistance of the Australian Embassy in Jordan. Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy, narrator; Mark Atkins and Ron Murray, didgeridoo musicians; Calvin Bowman, organist and Helen Summers travelled to Jordan where the concert was performed and an impromptu performance was given at an evening arts market.
In the words of the Centre’s Founder, Helen Summers:
The arts have always been a powerful medium for bringing about more understanding and respect among people from diverse cultures. The arts may include: music, song, theatre, poetry, film, multimedia, dance, visual arts, architecture and other forms.
Since 2009, the ICM has added new programs which include: Interfaith Pilgrimages and Study Tours, the annual World Interfaith Harmony Week event and Interfaith Services which are spiritually inclusive. #I’ll Dine With You, a Dinner for 210 people of diverse faiths seated at an 80 metre dining table was initiated in February 2016 where people from diverse religions and cultures ‘broke bread’ together and conversed with people they had not met before.
Further information about past events can be found in the Archival section of the website.
The ICM is a member of the Council for Chaplains in Tertiary Institutions and supports an Interfaith Chaplain at RMIT University Brunswick.