Some Christians walked into a temple, a mosque and a synagogue…

Last week I had the privilege of accompanying four of my church’s Confirmands on the Northern IL Conference Bishop’s Interfaith Youth Bus Tour. We were part of a group of more than 70 teenagers from across the Conference who visited a Hindu temple (which I learned is called a Mandir), a Muslim mosque and a Jewish synagogue. It was a long day to be sure, but it was fun and informative and our young people were engaged throughout.

You can read the full NIC article about the Tour, but here’s a money quote:

Organizers say one of the goals of this interfaith bus trip was to nurture and develop our future young leaders who are living in a more diverse and pluralistic society.

Reflecting on what they enjoyed about their experience our Confirmands said:

I like how the buildings reflected their beliefs: the carvings in the welcoming area were images of welcoming. The carvings in the worship area were images of their deities.

I enjoyed taking my shoes off [required of all who entered the worship space both in the Mandir and in the mosque], it made me feel at home and comfortable.

I didn’t know there were so many names for God. I thought it was just, you know, ‘God’. Or maybe ‘Jehovah’ or something.

Asked if anything made them uncomfortable, they said:

There were some weird things [happening during the Hindu prayer service] that I didn’t understand…that made me feel uncomfortable.

I was disappointed that I got skipped during the ‘flame thing’ at the temple.

And that, my friends, is what we trained professionals like to call a teachable moment!

“So, do you think people ever don’t understand what’s happening in our worship services at WUMC? What might make someone uncomfortable or disappointed during our worship?” I asked.

Maybe during Communion!

Yeah, like if someone was skipped during Communion or didn’t know what to do!

Or if they were skipped when we pass stuff in the pews.

It’s always exciting and a joy when young people think critically and earnestly about their faith and their experience of their faith! I’m proud of them all!

[This post is a revised version of what I write almost-weekly for my congregation‘s eNewsletter. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

Glimmer of hope?

Did you know Bishop Jung commended my church this week? I encourage you to read the full statement, but here’s the money quote:

As United Methodists, we express that our God calls us to work together with all people to overcome injustice.  In our Book of Resolutions, we affirm that our Muslim neighbors are our co-workers in making “God’s justice a reality for all people” (6061, pg. 800).  As people of many faiths, we all have sacred traditions.

In our Annual Conference, we have encouraged serious interfaith encounters and exploration between Christians and adherents of other religions of the world.  Over the past few years, I have led interfaith bus trips taking visitors to many different houses of worship where we engage in that kind of encounter.  On Saturday, April 16, we will again lead two bus loads of youth to interface with people of other faiths, including Islam.  As our Book of Resolutions underscores, the hope is that by developing friendships with those from whom and with whom we have much to learn, we can increase our respect for Islam as a way of life that calls its followers to the highest ideals.

Our Conference continues to look for ways which we can work to make our relationship with our Muslim brothers and sisters more concrete.  In 2005, we signed an agreement with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) to grow this relationship.  It has opened the doors for various groups to visit houses of worship, engage in holy conversations, and travel to holy places throughout the world.  Additionally, we have spoken out together against policies and practices that seek to limit the exercise of faith, such as a recent DuPage County amendment limiting new places of worship. These actions show that our church stands in solidarity with Muslims in the struggles for economic, political and human rights.

I encourage all congregations in our Conference to develop friendships and create the encounters where they may learn from and work with our Muslim neighbors.  Whether those friendships be through formal dialogues or simply seeking to learn from each other’s faith, may we grow together as co-workers building God’s holy community. (emphasis mine)

Ok, so the Bishop didn’t actually call Woodridge UMC by name. But last week we had a meal and story sharing event with Irshad Learning Center, a Muslim group that meets in our building.  That event is exactly the kind of thing our Bishop is recommending here. Also, four of our youth will be among those on the Interfaith Bus Tour next week.

And this week’s Northern IL Conference posted an article devoted to the event!

Deacon Beth from our congregation led the Storytelling very well, Pastor Jim was a great emcee and we certainly did the work of “building God’s holy community.” I’m very glad to have made some new friends and I really hope our two congregations will continue to love and serve God together.

I’d love to learn from the wisdom of the cloud… What are ways you or your church or other group are fostering interfaith dialogue?