Interfaith weavers seek to create close-knit, diverse communities

Posted Online: June 06, 2014, 4:40 pm
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By Leon Lagerstam,
ROCK ISLAND -- She knitted a shawl while weaving some interfaith pearls of wisdom.

Augustana College assistant professor of religion Dr. Laura Hartman was one of 110 people at an Interfaith Understanding Conference June 1 to 3, and did some knitting while listening to nationally known guest speakers.

She said knitting is something she encourages students do as a "contemplative exercise."

Teams of college presidents, faculty members, chaplains and students from 17 of the 26 universities affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America participated in the conference at Augustana. Participants included Muslim and Jewish representatives, as well as Lutherans.

"There was a lot of talk about doing it again," Augustana College chaplain, the Rev. Richard Priggie, said. "This was the first one of these, and I think it went superbly well, better than we expected. I predict we'll do it again, but may spread the wealth around to one of the other colleges."

Participants came from as far west as California Lutheran University, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and as far east as Susquehanna University, in Selinsgrove, Penn., Chaplain Priggie said.

Keynote speakers included Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and president of an Interfaith Youth Core movement and member of President Barack Obama's inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding ELCA Bishop, and Augustana College professor Dr. Jason Mahn also spoke. Dr. Mahn's keynote address Sunday was titled "Why Interfaith Understanding is Integral to the Lutheran Tradition and Lutheran Higher Education."

Dr. Patel discussed "The Interfaith Movement in Higher Education," and co-presented an "Interfaith Understanding in Local Communities" session with Bishop Eaton.

Panel discussions were held after each keynote address.

"People left here with a great deal of enthusiasm for interfaith understanding," Chaplain Priggie said.

A final session Tuesday morning dealt with "what are we taking away from this conference and are the things we're taking away going to really grow at each of these 17 colleges that sent representatives?" he said. "The answer people gave was a resounding 'yes.' "

Among follow-up steps participants discussed during that final session was "weaving interfaith understanding throughout the curriculum," Chaplain Priggie said. "When interfaith discussions occur, it usually happens through and stays in the religion department, but that has a limited impact.

"We're looking for a wider, deeper impact of how to weave interfaith approaches throughout the curriculum," he said.

The conference was exciting, inspirational and challenging, particularly the words of Dr. Patel, Dr. Hartman said.

"One of the things Eboo talked about was a mission statement used at Concordia Lutheran in Moorhead, Minn., which stated something like 'the reason we do our interfaith work is because we are Lutherans,'" Chaplain Priggie said.

"It's not just because we are nice, but it's because we are Lutherans, and worship a God of grace and His love for all.

"One of our Muslim students said he loved the fact that Augustana lifts up its Lutheran traditions passionately, because it serves as a model for him to lift up his tradition," Chaplain Priggie said.

"We can push our identity and diversity pedals at the same time," Dr. Patel said during one of the panel discussions. "Part of the interfaith skills set required includes history, theology and identifying shared values of different faiths."

"We all drink from one water," according to a responsive reading written by Malaysian environmentalist and human rights activist Anwar Fazal, that was used during a time of reflection at the conference. "We all breathe from one air. We rise from one ocean, and we live under one sky.

"The newborn baby cries the same. The laughter of children is universal. Everyone's blood is red, and our hearts beat the same song," continued the reading. "We are all brothers and sisters, only one family, only one earth. Together we live, and together we die."

As Dr. Hartman knows, interfaith weaving can help make a real close-knit community.


Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Sept. 17, the 260th day of 2014. There are 105 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: We are told league merchants have paid no attention to the prohibition on selling ammunition, but continue to sell just as before the order was issued.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. R.F. Sweet, rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish, left for the East to visit his boyhood home in Boston before attending the general convention of the Episcopal Church in New York.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dr. E.A. Anderson was named to succeed Dr. E.L. Kerns as head physician of the Modern Woodmen of America, and moved to Rock Island from Holdingford, Minn.
1939 -- 75 years ago: One week late, because of the outbreak of war, Dr. E.L. Beyer resumed his work as professor of romance languages at Augustana College. Dr. and Mrs. Beyer left Germany on the last train to the Belgian border.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Employees in Turnstyle stores in Moline and Davenport will vote Oct. 2 in an election set up by the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Employees will vote either for the Retail Clerk International or for no union.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Rock Island High School is considering a step to help teen moms stay in school and get their diploma. The school board is expected to vote tonight on instituting an on-site child care center.

(More History)