By Adam Walker Cleaveland
Minister for Youth and Young Adults
Asbury UMC, Livermore
On Saturday, April 30, Asbury United Methodist Church in Livermore hosted 25 interfaith high school youth and leaders for an "Interfaith Works: Service and Learning" event which was inspired by the work of Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core.
I got together with a Presbyterian youth minister, as well as the local rabbis and a leader at the Islamic Center in Livermore, and began to imagine what an interfaith youth event might look like in Livermore. I then got in touch with the Interfaith Youth Core who connected me to a speaker from Orange County, Prerna Abbi, who agreed to lead us in a day of interfaith dialogue, learning, and service.
The morning of the event was great – we worked through some of the Interfaith Youth Core principles about mutual respect for individual religious traditions, mutually inspiring relationships, and common action for the common good. We did a few icebreakers to get youth and leaders talking. Then we had an "Agree/Disagree" activity: A room was divided into sides – an "Agree" side and a "Disagree" side. When a statement was read, everyone had to choose a side.
Here are some of the statements:
- Livermore is a great place to live.
- Coke is better than Pepsi.
- I believe people are basically good.
- I believe there is a God who has a plan for my life.
- I believe God cares about the choices that I make.
- I believe there is a heaven and a hell.
- I believe there is good and bad in the world.
- I believe religion has contributed to some of our world's problems.
- I believe it is important to participate in a religious community.
- I would say that I am spiritual but not religious.
Each side had to choose a speaker who would share why the group chose that side, and if someone decided to stay in the middle, they had to share why they were on the fence about the issue. It was a great activity and got everyone to appreciate the commonalities and the differences.
Then we all sat around a circle and read various sacred scriptures from different religions that spoke about the need for and importance of service. It was interesting to hear from students about which religious text spoke to them. Many of the students connected with texts from the Jain tradition, as well as the Sikh tradition:
"The individual who performs selfless service without thought of reward shall attain God's salvation." (Sikh tradition, Guru Sahib)
"Rendering help to another is the function of all human beings." (Jain tradition, Tattvarthasutra 5.21)
After that we did another activity together which led us into a discussion on how to engage with those who have exclusive truth claims, and then it was time for lunch and of course, cornhole! We had five boards set up and they really got into it. (If you don't believe me, check out video here!)
Then came our time to live out our call to service and give back to the community – together! We partnered with Marylin Avenue Elementary School and worked on clearing out a ton of weeds from their school's garden. We had an amazing group of students and leaders who really got into the work and were able to make a huge improvement to the garden.
Everyone really enjoyed it and was excited about the energy and the interest in interfaith work. A few people asked, "So when is the next interfaith youth thing…?" This was meant to be a standalone event, but perhaps it's the beginning of something here in Livermore and the Tri-Valley. I don’t know, but I'm excited by the interest.
And finally, I sent out a survey to the participants, and here are a few comments from students:
- "I learned to be myself."
- "We can all be united through our service."
- "It was lots of fun to meet new people of different faith backgrounds, talk about our beliefs, and do a service project together."
- "I learned that even though each religion is different, they all have the same message and they really aren't that different."
This article was originally published on Adam Walker Cleaveland's blog, http://pomomusings.com/.
For more photos, visit the "Interfaith Works" Photo Gallery.