Tag Archives: President’s Interfaith Service Challenge

Creating Leaders in a Religiously Plural World

The church building that housed the faith community where I grew up sat immediately adjacent to my high school. Only the church’s parking lot separated the two, making it a convenient alternative to the busy main road traffic for many parents and carpools depositing students on weekday mornings.

On my first day of high school, however, the lot sat empty. Chains barricaded the driveway at the entrance. There were certain types of people, I learned, that a few members of our congregation didn’t want hanging out on “our private property.”

But not everyone was excluded. As we drove up to the church, a few men who had volunteered their time at 7:00 AM that Monday morning recognized us as church members and unhooked the chains that barricaded the parking lot entrance to let us through. Outsiders, however, were not welcome.

At a national gathering of college presidents, faculty, staff, campus ministers and students for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge this week in Washington D.C., my thoughts returned to that morning. Leaders from all over the country gathered at Howard University in the heart of our nation’s capital because of chains like those: barricades that keep one type of person in — and another type of person out.

The leaders who I met this week in D.C., however, don’t believe that those barricades have to exist.

I’m not talking about a group of folks who are interested in blurring the lines between theological and philosophical perspectives. Instead, we’re having a discussion about how our differences don’t have to keep us from relationships that will improve our communities, break down stereotypes, and even inspire us to be better people. These are government officials, college administrators and student activists, interfaith organizers from across the country who are not only passionate about the programs they will run or the projects they will complete but also the leaders they will create.

And that is what the movement is all about.

They are creating leaders who recognize the danger of barricades in church parking lots. They realize what happens when one group tries to keep for itself something that has the potential to benefit the common good. They know what can be accomplished when we refuse to let presumptions and stereotypes get in the way of relationships.

I am inspired by the progress of campuses like Bethel University and Messiah College, who — despite student bodies that largely profess the same core beliefs — believe it crucial to create a learning environment in which Christian leaders are trained to engage a diverse society. They and many of their peer campuses are demonstrating the impact of deliberate steps beyond campus boundaries to create partnerships with communities of different traditions at nearby schools and in neighboring congregations.

But they are not the only ones who deserve applause. I’ve heard the stories this week of colleges and universities that gather students from around the world but are realizing that the mere presence of diversity is not enough. They too see that tomorrow’s leaders must be champions of not just tolerance, but of collaborative action.

I saw this need to create interfaith leaders my first day of high school, when a well-intentioned effort to keep a church parking lot free of litter and loitering became a metaphor for my tradition, the evangelical church. But it has taken the better part of 10 years for me to realize its full meaning, illuminated now by the vision of tomorrow’s leaders.

For the American church, it’s a call to practice hospitality — to remember that Jesus was relationship-oriented, a storyteller, and a servant. And to realize what that means in the context of the most religiously diverse nation in history.

Someday I hope to return to that parking lot for an interfaith service project, where imams and rabbis join evangelical pastors, Sikhs, Buddhists, and religious and nonreligious folks from around the neighborhood in doing something that helps make our community a better place. During that project, we’ll dialogue about what motivates us to serve — a process that catalyzes relationships, creating long-term partnerships between communities once separated by barricades.

When it happens, it will be because of the Bethel Universities, the Messiah Colleges and the hundreds of campuses across the nation that recognized the need for interfaith engagement and created leaders to fill it.

This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post Religion.

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Headed to D.C. for President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge gathering

I’ll be representing the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with one other student and one staff member at the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge 2012 Summer Gathering this Monday and Tuesday in Washington D.C.

We’re excited to join over 300 college presidents, administrators, chaplains and students at this gathering which features special guests from the Department of Education, the Interfaith Youth Core and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

While we’re there to network and talk about our work at Illinois (namely Illinois Interfaith Service and the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration), I’ll be keeping an eye out for private Christian colleges and universities to hear about how explicitly Christian campuses have engaged interfaith work on their campuses. (For a great example, check back to our guest post from Kyleen Burke From Gordon College: Loving Our Religious Neighbors).

I’ll be bringing the FLP video camera and I hope to have a chance to do some informal video blogs along the way, so check back here next week for more about the President’s Challenge Summer Gathering!

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FLP- The Vision of Things to Come

As the new school year kicks off, Greg and I have finally been able to meet physically (no more Skype!) and discuss plans for the future of FLP. Out of these conversations have come many exciting ideas, and I will share a few of them with you now!

In attempt to provide quality content, Greg and I often spend a few hours per post, shooting each one back and forth at least once or twice for proofreading before formatting it and queuing it up to go on the site. This makes publishing new content a rather lengthy process, and thus whenever either of our schedules become even the least bit hectic, things fall silent around here.

To combat this, Greg and I have agreed to operate this a bit more like a conventional blog, posting shorter, less formal pieces while continuing to post the more in-depth pieces we have been posting since day one.

Greg and I maintain active leadership roles in the University of Illinois’ student interfaith group, Interfaith in Action, where we both serve as executive board members, as well as serve on the leadership team charged with implementing the President’s Interfaith Service Challenge issued earlier this year. All this, in addition to being full-time students, leaves us at times with precious little in the way of free time. Despite this, our passion for, and devotion to, the mission of FLP remains strong and steadfast; we just have to get better at balancing this blog with our day-to-day lives.

We will update ya’ll with news about our activities, both in Interfaith in Action and in our work implementing the President’s Challenge. After all, this blog is about Christians engaging in interfaith work, and that means practicing what we preach!

So, here’s what you can expect:

  • More Tweets! Messages from myself will be signed “-C.” and messages from Greg will be signed “-G.”
  • Frequent updates to the blog, including less ‘formal’ posts
  • More guest posts (hopefully expanding to a rotation of other regular contributors)
  • New media content, such as videos, talks, etc.

In the meantime, look for Greg’s posts on Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians.

Please follow us on Twitter, “like” us on Facebook, tell your friends, and continue to check back regularly for new content! We look forward to stepping into the future of FLP with all of you!

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