Jacksonville, the largest city by area in the contiguous United States, is a port city replete with marshlands, bridges, and stunning beaches. The “Bold New City of the South” is home to a population of 822,000 and the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention. Although Jacksonville’s local culture is steeped in Protestant Christianity, with the First Baptist Church occupying eleven city blocks in downtown Jacksonville, religious diversity is increasingly evident in this sprawling city. Today, seven Buddhist centers, four mosques, a Baha’i center, four Pagan centers, and four Hindu temples now dot the landscape; Jacksonville’s small but well-established Jewish community has long played an active role in interfaith relations and civic engagement.
While Jacksonville’s skyline features seven iconic bridges connecting the city across the north flowing St. John’s River, few might associate this Bible Belt city with significant interfaith bridge-building. Yet the city’s most prominent interfaith organization, OneJax, is joined by a range of other efforts, from the longstanding Interfaith Council of Jacksonville, which focuses on religious leaders, to newer groups such as the Institute for Prayer and Spirituality, which cultivates contemplative practices across lines of religious difference. In Jacksonville, the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, or ICARE, brings together more than 25 congregations to work on justice issues, and the Amity Turkish Cultural Center, affiliated with the Gülen movement, emphasizes dialogue. In addition, campus-based and hospital-affiliated spaces contribute to the texture of inter-religious relations, actively working with local faith-based and interfaith organizations. Beyond the interfaith groups represented on the map, many local houses of worship play a vital role in cultivating positive interfaith relations in Jacksonville through pulpit swaps, forums, and an openness to dialogue and engagement. OneJax and other interfaith groups regularly coordinate events and activities, through networks formal and informal: as they look to the future, they seek to strengthen and deepen this collaborative work.