Different faiths build on common concerns
Ohioans break down religious stereotypes through education and service projects.
After a quick buffet lunch, the Saturday afternoon crew in hard hats pauses for prayer, offered on this shift by Mike Hill, a Unitarian. The diverse group then heads off, hammers in hand, to their common task: framing a brand new Habitat for Humanity house for Ara Jane Halsey and her son, Nicholas.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This is the fifth year that the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio has partnered with Habitat for a six-week home build. The spring project is a popular activity of the grass-roots lay organization, which brings together people from 16 different religious traditions.
"When you urge people to get on board with interfaith work, that's the piece that really grabs them," says Judy Trautman, cochair of the council. "You start working together on a common cause, and it's fun!"
For Ms. Trautman and her husband, Woody, the spark plugs behind the council, it's about building relationships among Toledo area residents who might otherwise never know or come to appreciate one another. As America grows more religiously diverse, faith groups tend to build close-knit communities complete unto themselves, Mr. Trautman says. With religion a flash point today and misperceptions often holding sway, that "doesn't bode well for the country's future."
A city built around manufacturing, Toledo has many ethnic groups. "It's a little Chicago in terms of diversity," Judy says. Since 9/11, more people are recognizing the need for greater interaction and understanding.
With its founding in 2002, the council began to develop educational projects to offer accurate pictures of the various world religions, and social opportunities where people could break bread together in nonthreatening situations.
Local Muslims, for instance, see it as an opportunity to interact with others in a positive environment. Emmett Kadri, whose father came from Lebanon in the 1940s, has been active in the council for three years.
"This is my way to meet and share with people who are interested in learning about Islam," says Mr. Kadri, a systems analyst at Detroit Edison. "Problems arise because people are ignorant, and, in the outside world, some can be nasty. But those involved with the council are open and inquisitive and try to understand."
Nazife Amrou, who grew up in Turkey, agrees: "Today we are in a difficult situation, and it's an opportunity for us to meet individuals and for them to get to know us." She enjoys sharing ethnic food and attends the council's social gatherings each year, including the Thanksgiving Celebration, New Year's party, and summer picnic.
Ms. Amrou brought five volunteers to help on today's effort. "Building a house is a noble cause, and charity is very important in Islam," she explains.
For the Habitat project, participants from the faith groups – Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha'i, Episcopal, Christian Science, Religious Science, etc. – contribute funds as well as hands and take turns providing food and prayers for the two daily shifts. They sport matching T-shirts with the council logo and symbols for each group.
The activity "has enormous value, exemplifying Christly oneness and caring for others," says the Rev. Barb Walley, of the Religious Science community, climbing down from a perch inside the house.
On this April weekend, two youth groups have joined in, speeding the progress. Under a brilliant sun, the volunteers are already nailing siding on the frame, ahead of schedule.
While the service projects are a big draw for some, others put great store in opportunities to learn about others' perspectives. One of the first council projects – a six-week seminar on teachings of the major world religions – drew 150 people a day. The council is considering a third seminar series on the topic.
In a 2002 collaboration with a local community initiative called Erase the Hate, the council offered workshops on how to achieve peace, from the standpoint of various religions. More recently, it has sponsored youth poetry and video competitions for Erase the Hate.