Multi-Faith Youth Group
Arkansas Peace Week
“Shalom” is a greeting of peace and yet it means “wholeness” – we have peace, we are one with all the parts of our being, one with our GOD, and one with all the different people in life. Peace is important to our multi-faith youth group in principle and in action. Many of our youth were already participating in Peace Week through school or their faith group. At an interfaith peace event at the Islamic Center of Little Rock, we heard about “shalom” from many speakers, then practiced peace during the call to prayer that evening. During fellowship, we met a girl who will be joining our youth group. For some of us, it was the first time we had been to the Islamic Center and witnessed a call to prayer. We also attended Peace Fest with music, speeches, booths from peace organizations, art activities, henna, and food trucks. Our youth had a great time chatting with one another, eating food with their families, and getting henna on our hands. Through such gestures of friendship, like henna, we continue to build relationships across communities and even across understandings of our own communities. September 25, 2015
Love Thy Neighbor 2015
Wonderful moments arise when you encourage youth to take leadership. The youth had practiced for weeks on their own and then completed a final rehearsal by themselves before the event started. They knew their cues to go to the stage for the reflection and the Universal Prayer. One youth not participating in the reflection recorded a video of the performance on her phone. The most nervous speakers of our group pushed through their fears to deliver an excellent performance. Youth jokingly yet cordially ushered guests to the food festival. Every youth left that night hearing compliments from the attendees about how impactful their performance was. The youth were an inspiration amidst beautiful music, captivating prayers, and enlightening reflections. Not only had the youth taken ownership of this event through their leadership, but they had fun. During the festival, the youth were deep in conversation with one another in line and over food. As their coordinator, I was proud to take a step back to admire the beautiful moments these youth shared with each other and with the community. September 10, 2015
Rehearsal for Love Thy Neighbor 2015
In the six weeks from our planning meeting, we had two group practices and the dress rehearsal. Our youth had a great deal of independence, so the effort they applied to this presentation is testament to how much they believe in the interfaith work they are doing. We had high expectations for their presentation. They had two weeks to come up with stories. Stories went through multiple drafts. The slam poem had to be in sync. The recitations were shared over phone. Encouragements were shared right along with areas needing improvement. Staging was agreed upon and then had to be changed at dress rehearsal. Each youth would have a role to play in the night, whether the performance or ushering or music or introducing the Universal Prayer. At the end of the dress rehearsal, we were anxious but confident in our performance. Even our youth who had stage fright were ready to perform and show the community who they are. August 16, August 30, and September 8, 2015
Dialogue and Planning Meeting
Planning an event together is one way to build relationships, especially when our event has to have themes of hope, pride, rejuvenation, and nourishment. This year is the 4th annual Love Thy Neighbor peace event hosted by the Interfaith Center. Each year, the youth group plays a major role in the program. Our small group of planners were very creative in their ideas for the event – a presentation of a visual art piece, a slam poem, a reader’s theater, speeches, stories, film. We discussed implications of different ideas; we did want to reinforce myths that interfaith efforts attempt to make everyone the same; we wanted to celebrate the differences of everyone in the room while urging the audience to act or peace and harmony. In the end, we decided on a reader’s theater involving stories written and performed by a representative from Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity. We also decided on a slam poem written by two of our youth to deliver the message of hopeful action we wanted to leave in the hearts of our audience. July 26, 2015
Service in the Garden at the Arkansas Foodbank
With help from a Clinton School of Public Service graduate, we were connected to the Arkansas Foodbank for a service project. Two of our Muslim girls, the Clinton School graduate, and I (Blake Tierney, coordinator) participated in service along with Foodbank staff.
While harvesting onions and cleaning flower beds, we were all able to chat about our faith and who we are. Much of the conversation involved Ramadan, which the two girls were celebrating at the time.
Their service while fasting shined a light to expose our excuses for when we do not serve our community.
It was a great experience to connect with one another across faiths and through faith while connecting to the earth that sustains us all regardless of which faith we profess.
We were happy to serve our community and happy to be caught red-handed thereafter for our service. P.S. onions dye your hands red, and, yes, pun fully intended. July 9, 2015
Meditation and Interfaith Spaces with P. Allen Smith
The cameras were rolling. Our youth opened with prayers from their faiths.
Rev. Susan Sims Smith introduced a simple meditation using a mantra with your breath.This was no judgment of yourself or your constantly busy brain but an attempt to achieve even a second of peace through boring that part of your brain.
The youth had plenty of opportunities today to prepare – we met before the cameras arrived to discuss the activities, we explored the Arkansas House of Prayer, and we started the meditation session without the cameras rolling. Afterward during food and fellowship, we laughed together for many of us did not even realize the cameras had started filming our meditation (some of us even possibly falling asleep).
We celebrated the graduation of one of our youth from high school. We chatted with former youth group members. We also were surprised by P. Allen Smith actually showing up. He talked to us about what he does and his role in creating the outdoor space at the House of Prayer. Finally, we settled in to discuss these kinds of interfaith spaces, the experience of meditation in the space, and about our faith journey to this point with MFYG.
With each question, youth and adults had to turn to a different neighbor to discuss their response, then they reported back to the larger group. The discussion was quite fruitful. Many youth admitted growth in their faith while in MFYG in the few months we had been together. We felt that an interfaith space can be physical but the people and the social environment are also very important for a safe place to interact and be. Silence and circles also seemed important to our group for holy spaces. We ended the day with the Universal Prayer.
After such a strong day of building relationships, the group prayed together with beauty and strength that amazed many of us. We are excited to see our film on P. Allen Smith’s television show, but we are more excited to see where our youth group grows from here. May 30, 2015
Jewish Food and Cultural Festival
The Jewish Food and Cultural Festival was an opportunity for our youth to serve the Jewish population of Central Arkansas by helping them raise awareness about their culture, history, and faith while also celebrating it together as a community. Our small group arrived a little before 2:00 to sign-in and explore the music, the food, the art, and the “Ask a Rabbi” booth. We were split into two groups, one to help break down boxes and count tickets at the Pastries vendor and one to help serve the remaining food at the Deli. Once this was accomplished, we split into another two groups to clean out the meat cookers and to count tickets. It was amazing to see the support for the Jewish community through the number of volunteers who were there and the monetary success which we helped them obtain. Our youth had an amazing opportunity to speak together about their service and reflect on what parts of their tradition they felt were most worthy of celebration. April 26, 2015
Pilgrimage for Peace
To walk in solidarity for a value that is common among all our faiths was important for our youth. We met at Heifer Village, walked together across the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge, and gathered again at the Beacon of Peace and Hope in North Little Rock.
For the little under 1.5 miles, our youth were able to engage in one of the most important elements of peace: building relationships. During the program at the Peace Garden, we listened in silent reverence to the names of the people killed in Little Rock the last year. We connected to one another through music, poetry, and prayer. Our group also had the chance to begin the closing of the ceremony with the Universal Prayer.
Halfway through, some young people moved the crowd with excerpts from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Those young people, Nimesh Wijewardane, Shahnur Said, and Maddie Robinson, proudly represented the Multi-Faith Youth Group and their faiths of Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.
Finally, our youth group helped close the ceremony by reciting the Universal Prayer that the MFYG group wrote in 2012. The event was an excellent opportunity for our young people to take away a great understanding of the need for peace and their role in building that peace. March 29, 2015
When you struggle with your faith, you care about your faith. When you deeply care about your faith, you find space for people of other faiths. I almost wrote that you make space, but in fact you find it because the space is already there.
Our question today sparked a long and winding dialogue. People learned new things about different faiths, professed admiration for the faith of others, bonded over struggles they have shared in their different faiths, and discovered a deeper appreciation for their faith and the faiths of others. Our question was “what is a belief in your faith that is particularly challenging to you, and how do you deal with it?”.
The responses began to lean toward “what was wrong with my faith”, such as the treatment of people on the margins or the division between reform and orthodox or the outlook on suffering. However, with some guidance from group leaders, the dialogue shifted toward beliefs you care about but find difficult to live out because of society or human tendencies. We shared worries of feeling threatened or disempowered or feeling like you are doing something wrong either in your faith or in society; however, group members reminded one another about the freedom and power in committing to your faith amidst struggles.
After the discussion faded, we showed the new group our past contributions to the September 11th peace event held by the Interfaith Center and brainstormed ways we could contribute this year. We also took another quiz since so many youth liked our quiz from the first meeting. This time we were trying to determine which passage went with which faith tradition. The difficulty was in that all the passages had to do with the Golden Rule. The quiz enlightened some youth (and adults) to the texts of other traditions and to the shared focus on empathy and hospitality. Our meeting ended yet again with a birthday celebration. March 15, 2015
There is room to make mistakes. We started back into an MFYG tradition of asking a question to spark dialogue. In response to the question, “What do you love most about your faith?”, one of our girls responded that there is room in her faith to make mistakes.
This idea resonated with people of other faiths and with the group leaders as important for our interfaith dialogue.
Whether new, as our youth or as experienced like our group leaders to interfaith dialogue, having room to make mistakes and to be forgiven invites deeper and longer lasting dialogue.
In addition to our question, each person picked up a postcard that appealed to them and explained to the group why it did.
Between the responses to the question and to the postcards, many responses resonated across the faiths, such as artistic/architectural contributions, liberation and hope, Jesus being a good guy, care for animals, and openness to all people. Our group then swiftly and easily decided on a t-shirt design to represent our group and elected one member to be in charge of creating it.
We invited Asif Masood to talk to the group about the Interfaith Sports Festival that the faith communities have been hosting the past few years and how we can be involved. Then we ended with our first birthday celebration!
The youth had no idea it was coming, but we felt that the celebration brought the group together to appreciate the life of another youth and allowed time for the youth to build relationships within and across faiths. February 22, 2015
Faiths in Conversation
On Thursday, January 22nd, students from the Bridges organization based at New York University, sat with local community members in dialogue regarding service. “Faiths in Conversation”, an event hosted by the Interfaith Center of the Institute for Theological Studies at St Margaret’s, encouraged guests to ask themselves what service meant in their faith, what barriers their faith (or personal experience) had to serving people of another faith, and how we could overcome these barriers.
Dinner from Taj Mahal restaurant was provided before the dialogue and a kosher meal was served for Jewish participants. The Multi-Faith Youth Group, a program of the Interfaith Center, took the lead that night with welcoming our guests. The Multi-Faith Youth Group also blessed the food with prayers from the five different faiths represented in the youth group – Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Representatives from the NYU Bridges Club and from their service host, Jewish Disaster Response Corps (JDRC), spoke about their service that week in Mayflower, Arkansas rebuilding homes. The students spoke about learning about another’s faith, growing in their own faith, and building relationships across faiths through questions and seeing others practice their faith rituals. TheFaiths in Conversation guests gained insight into the power of these relationships as exemplified by the NYU Bridges students or by NYU Imam Khalid and NYU Rabbi Sarna documented in the film “Of Many” or by our very own Sophia Said and Rev. Susan Sims Smith.
Our dinner and dialogue asked each table of guests, representing three to five different faiths to share with each other their struggles and successes about service to people of different faiths. The conversation piece of Faiths in Conversation brought laughs and also serious dialogue to people across lines of faith. The result was a collection of strategies for overcoming barriers to service. Strategies included taking risks, sharing a common goal, educating yourself, and of course food.
Our guests, including local adults and the NYU students and the Multi-Faith Youth Group teenagers, all left with courage to overcome the fear of taking that first step in a relationship with someone of another faith. Not only were our guests from New York inspired by the interfaith hospitality of Arkansas, but our local guests and youth also found inspiration in power of “Faiths in Conversation.” January 22, 2015
On this rainy day in January, when two of the adult group leaders missed the meeting due to trouble with road conditions, our youth were able to have the first MFYG meeting of the year! Our two veteran youth group members, Shahnur Said and Shelby Powers, stepped in for the adult leaders. They passed out a quiz that the youth had to complete using the help of others in the group. There were questions that stumped a good number of youth and one that completely stumped the whole group. But the youth really enjoyed the whole experience of answering the quiz questions, talking to the other youth, getting answers wrong, and discussing what they just learned. Group norms were set, introductions were made, and dialogue began. Youth had a rich discussion regarding stereotypes that people have of their own faith and the faith of others; in addition, youth had a lot to say about the role their own faith plays in these stereotypes and negative feelings between and within faiths. Our two veteran youth then helped lead the group in a discussion of a quote from Eboo Patel and our responsibility in standing up to bullying, especially people of different faiths. The meeting ended with the greatest tool for building bridges: food. January 11, 2015
We are standing in your presence to pray for peace and harmony. We pray for a day when your love envelops the earth. A day when spirits that unite us are stronger than the forces that divide us. A day when all people are one no matter what color, race, or religion. Please grant us compassion to care for all creations; love to keep us strong; and acceptance to reduce hatred. Please guide our hearts through understanding, so we may coexist in harmony, and universal peace may prevail the earth.