Developing our interfaith ears

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Faith Matters is a column written by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly feature will include local faith-based comment on issues facing us today. Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)

Did you ever sit and talk with a group of people of faith asking questions? Here, in our area, you can.

Through activities of the Interfaith Dialogue Coalition of United Churches, spiritual leaders build bridges of understanding and trust. Then small groups provide panels responding to questions in schools, congregations and groups. These diverse panel don’t always agree, but our relationships doesn’t change. We are friends, thinking the best of each other, helping each other and working to build community.

Let me introduce some of the group to you:

Rabbi Joel Kessler, spiritual leader at Ohev Sholom Synagogue, (Jewish) Williamsport, “discovered that the members of the panel have more in common than what divides us: the ethical monotheism of Abraham; the relationship with the One Creator of Heaven and Earth, who loves and cares for all of us; Jewish Sacred Scriptures; a belief in a binding tradition; and the values of life, family, compassionate righteousness, justice, inalienable freedom, universal love and ultimate world peace. I come to the interfaith table because we all have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty to work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era.”

Makenzie Conner, Youth Ministry director at St. Joseph the Worker Parish (Roman Catholic Christian), Williamsport, enjoys helping to, “foster healthy conversations by providing a panel of religiously devout individuals. Made up of ordained and lay leaders; we provide valuable insights to the faith, traditions, and beliefs of our tradition with the greater community of God’s people. Each of us search for the salvation of one deity through our own unique traditions, scriptures, and prayers. We provide valuable stories of faith and life practice in answering questions. It is through dialogues like this that we maintain morality in the world through the eyes of faith and work toward the common good.”

The Rev. Viking Dietrich is the pastor at St. John Lutheran “Brick” Church, Montgomery (Protestant Christian) and chairman of United Churches Interfaith Commission. “While living 30 years in West Africa as a missionary, engaged with people of other cultures and religions, especially Muslims, I discovered that the more I understand other religions, the more I understand my own convictions as a Christian. Each of us has the potential to build up or tear down, but as the apostle Paul writes, our gifts are for the purpose of building up the community (Eph 4:29). How will you participate in today’s world where every day we encounter people of other backgrounds? I hope you’ll make the efforts at dialogue necessary for greater understanding and a more tolerant world.”

Zokaa Rajjaub often is our Muslim panelist. She grew up in Syria and has lived in Williamsport for the past 37 years. “One of my roles as a lifelong Muslim is to share the stories we are taught by our prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Our teachings emphasize tolerance and inclusion of other religions. One example of tolerance shown by Prophet Muhammad to other religions is the Islamic constitution itself. When Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina, he became the political leader of state, governed by the precepts of Islam. The first article of the constitution was that all the inhabitants of Medina, the Muslims as well as the Jews, Christians and idolaters, were ‘One nation to the exclusion of all others.” God said in the holy Quran ‘To you be your religion, to me be mine.’ Were we to follow what God and the prophets had taught us, we would all live in a peaceful society.”

Together we step out in faith to share our traditions beliefs. However, we all do more listening than speaking. We listen with an abiding sense of respect because we find God’s presence in each of us and in those who take the time to listen and ask questions.

— Bernstine is the executive director of the United Churches of Lycoming County.