Category Archives: Stories

Interfaith from Across the Pond: My Time With the Three Faiths Forum

Copyright © Three Faiths Forum 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by David Fraccaro of the IFYC if I could travel to London for an event put on by the Three Faiths Forum, a UK-based organization similar in mission to IFYC who was trying to launch campus interfaith initiatives at universities across London. Not surprisingly, I agreed.

When the day finally came, I hopped on a train and arrived in London just after lunch. A quick jaunt through the Underground on the Northern Line, and I emerged in the quiet neighborhood of Belsize Park, where the event was taking place. I checked in to the retreat center, met briefly with David, and then headed inside to sit in on some of the training sessions to get a feel for the conference’s trajectory.

I met some really great people—everyone welcomed me warmly and graciously allowed me to hang around. I participated in a few of the group challenges, like when we sorted through a pile of questions and phrases, teasing out those we felt demonstrated the greatest and least respect before discussing those we felt floated on the margins of either category. It was an eye-opening experience to see the myriad assumptions that go into even our most simple questions.

I found it interesting that the Three Faiths Forum not only works to promote interfaith cooperation amongst religious groups on university campuses, but also runs programs in London-area secondary schools (among other things). These programs bring speakers from various faith traditions into classrooms, where they share their stories and spend time teaching the value of mutual civility and the art of asking respectful questions. The aim is to get the students thinking about what they say and how they view people other than themselves. I thought it was a great, though albeit rather bold, thing to do, as I can’t imagine doing something similar in American high schools.

I gave a brief address during an informal panel discussion—a story about how I became involved in interfaith work and where I hoped to go with it in the future—and fielded a few questions regarding the pragmatics of mobilizing campus and community groups to engage in large-scale service projects.

After our sessions ended for the day, we headed to dinner, and I had a chance to get to know everyone better. The next day (and the last day of their conference), everyone shared their ideas for reaching out to their campus communities and demonstrating the power of interfaith cooperation. Their ideas were incredible and original, inspiring me to consider implementing a few of them at U of I when I return next semester.

My favorite idea was one that involved making t-shirts emblazoned with the symbol of your faith tradition on it and then building a full-size archway out of cardboard bricks (or something similar) in a prominent campus location, the display of unity coming from the concerted effort to build an object that requires all of its parts to stand (as an arch does). I imagine this could be a pretty powerful demonstration on the quad at University of Illinois.

My time with the Three Faiths Forum reminded me that interfaith is also international. It isn’t a movement consigned to American university campuses or even London secondary schools, but is something that involves the entire world. (I think the recent stories of Muslims and Christians standing together in the Middle East proves this.) And I know that we talk about it as being a global movement all the time, but I must admit that it didn’t quite hit me until I sat in a room with students from another country who shared the same values as I do about interfaith cooperation.

When we as Christians participate in interfaith work, we participate in an international discussion. Our efforts to form relationships with those of other religious and non-religious traditions may not seem like much at first, but once the example has been set in one place, it can be followed in another. Just think of Martin Luther King Jr following the example set by Gandhi; one individual’s witness for their faith can resonate throughout the world.

You can find more information on The Three Faiths Forum at their website here, as well as watch some great and informative videos on their YouTube channel.

 

 

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Communicating Christ: Reflections from Northwestern University

Last Thursday, I had the great privilege of sharing my passion for interfaith cooperation with a group of evangelical students at Northwestern University’s Multi-Ethnic InterVarsity.

As I described the need for interfaith relationships to combat religious violence and tension, the barriers that keep evangelicals from engaging in interfaith work, and the ways in which interfaith cooperation allows us as Christians to communicate Christ with others, I was met with an encouraging response.

Afterwards, I chatted with one student who desires to build a sustainable project to serve the homeless in Northwestern’s surrounding community of Evanston, IL.  We talked about the great opportunity to grow the impact of one campus fellowship’s efforts by reaching out to student organizations of other faith traditions and creating an interfaith project to serve the homeless.

Another student reminded me of Jesus’ words in the New Testament: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” reflecting the notion in my faith tradition that, because I am a Christian, my life reflects a quality that no other’s does, and that simply living a life motivated by the example of Christ, I am providing a witness to the core values of my faith.  How exciting, then, to follow the example of Christ by serving others in an interfaith context?

These conversations are the first steps in changing the broader evangelical perspective on a religiously diverse world.  We must tell the stories of positive interaction between faith communities, cast the vision for a world where inter-religious conflict is overcome by enriching relationships, and encourage opportunities to show Christ to the world through our actions.

This gets me thinking.  How would the global church be different if our youth groups organized service projects in their communities with groups from the nearby mosque or temple?  What if our campus fellowships coordinated social events with religious student organizations from other faith traditions?  What if our churches were more hospitable to their neighboring congregations?  What if religious leaders, clergy, and secular leaders alike were getting together to talk about how we can better meet the needs of our communities?

Would we, as Christians, be seen differently?  Would we spend less time quarreling about church budgets and communion practices and more time living, serving, and loving?  Would we be communicating the love of Jesus in a clearer, more effective way?

I think so.  What do you think?

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