Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Combining Faith with Service

Religion and faith can puzzle many, scare others. But for a group at Ohio University, embracing differences between religious (or non-religious) beliefs can help promote learning and acceptance of others in an open, interfaith community. Interfaith Impact started in September 2009 as a student-led discussion group, housed at the United Campus Ministries: Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice. The group’s motto is that they are dedicated to “bringing people of all faith traditions together for open discussion and community service.” There are currently about eight core student members in the group, with many other students fluctuating in and out weekly; some Athens community members are also a part of Interfaith Impact. Evan Young, who has been the spiritual director at UCM for the past six years, took the reigns as the leader of the group this spring. He guides discussions on Interfaith Impact’s Thursday night meetings. Young, 50, is also a part-time pastor at the Unitarian Fellowship of Athens. He grew up in Vermont and after much moving, he joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Carbondale, Ill., in his thirties. He said it was the “first substantive experience with a faith community and it was amazing, it was really transformative.” Young then spent some time in Mississippi where he decided to go to seminary to be a pastor, traveling to the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, in Delaware, Ohio. He came to UCM in 2005. Before Interfaith Impact, UCM had wanted to create a weekly service program for community involvement. Young said he was looking for a significant level of student leadership for that service, while still working out how to manage his campus minister position. He then tried to conduct it by himself, but was having trouble making it compelling to students, he said. After those first efforts, a group formed when an intern at UCM had the idea to create an “interactive, experience-based group where people would articulate how their faith commitments informed their lives,” Young said. The intern—who was at UCM for only a year—named the group Impact. Another intern then helped out with the group and after some trial and error, things clicked and it was renamed Interfaith Impact. Young said UCM was looking to focus on the idea of interfaith by incorporating “religious pluralism, direct experience, and walking the talk.” Once the guidelines of Interfaith Impact had been decided, those at UCM realized that permanent staff—Young—was necessary to make the group effective. During the beginnings of the group, UCM became involved with the Interfaith Youth Core, an international organization that was started in 2002 by Eboo Patel with the goal to “build an interfaith youth movement using service as the bridge.” Because Interfaith Impact is discussion based, Young tries to stimulate the meetings by incorporating different techniques to engage students. He starts meetings by lighting a candle and often offers some opening words to those in attendance. After the conversation about the week’s topic, he asks students “So what?” to spark further dialogue on the importance of the previous group discussion to their lives. In the spring and fall, Young led a series of discussions that focused on five universal questions: Where do we come from; why are we here; what are we supposed to do; what happens when we die; and why do we suffer? Recently during the Fall Quarter, he incorporated a hands-on game focused on power struggles and another meeting included a guided mediation session. Sometimes instead of involving the whole group in a conversation, members discuss the week’s topic with partner. Another approach to faith discussion is the group’s Pilgrim’s Progress, an extended answer approach to “How did I get here?” Members can explain to one another their spiritual journey, or how they’ve changed and evolved in their faith throughout their lives. Rachel Hyden, a senior majoring in public relations at OU, started working with UCM in 2010 as a PR intern. She is a regular member of Interfaith Impact meetings. Hyden said she has always appreciated other faiths “because I was raised non-religious, so I’ve always been a person who likes to explore.” So she was ecstatic when she was asked to be a media liaison between UCM and IFYC in 2010. Hyden said she names herself an agnostic, but is more of “an interfaith believer” than any prescribed label. She is also currently studying Buddhism and identifies with many of its teachings. She said the group is not a lecture about religion and its definitions but an open discussion for people of any or no religious affiliation. Instead of talking about “what religion is,” she said, Interfaith Impact asks questions like “How do you feel today? What do you think about freedom? What does your faith tradition make you think about freedom?” Incorporation of beliefs and how to apply them to outside concepts is an aspect that Interfaith Impact works toward. The intimacy of the small group allows for students to listen to one another; “You really feel so comfortable to open up and talk,” Hyden said. Though she said she would like to see the Interfaith Impact grow. The Better Together Campaign is a student-launched national campaign that started in 2010 under the wing of the IFYC. Hyden is the current president of the OU campaign. She said it was small last year when it was first introduced on campus, but it held events to build momentum and “getting people warmed up” to be comfortable talking about their faith. Better Together at OU is currently focused on a clean water initiative and domestic poverty. The campaign is trying to raise $5,000 by the end of the academic year to donate to build a well in a developing country; their funds would go to charity: water, a nonprofit organization dedicated to water security, who would then distribute the money. In March, they held an ice cream social called “Ice Cream for Life” to raise money to buy LifeStraws—personal water filters from a Swiss company that help fight against diarrheal diseases. The straws were sent to Haiti for earthquake relief from the January 2010 disaster. “Every person deserves clean and safe drinking water. There is no discrimination about it,” Hyden said. She has been involved with the topic of water as she is a part of the Sierra Club’s Clean Water Fellowship Program. Better Together is taking a local focus on water issues—like hydraulic fracturing in the Athens area—and also an international focus with water security in developing nations, she said. At the end of October, Better Together showed “Thirst”—a 2004 film about the global water crisis and the fight for private ownership of water sources highlighting communities in Bolivia, India and the United States. They have also conducted stream cleanups for the Monday Creek, a tributary to the Hocking River. On-campus efforts to fight domestic poverty include hosting a free meal program for dinner on Thursdays and lunch on Saturdays at UCM. Volunteers are welcome to cook, prepare and serve the meals for anyone in need of a meal at no cost, and Better Together committee members help work with UCM. The Interfaith Youth Core provides support to OU’s Better Together Campaign through training, materials that help with organization, ideas and networking with groups on other campuses “to amplify our effort,” Young said. Along with raising funds for and giving aid to water and poverty issues, the campaign’s ongoing goal is to build an interfaith student community, Hyden said. There are many service projects going on in the Athens area under the Better Together umbrella, and Young tries to meet with students after their projects to offer a reflection period on the community service, tying in the interfaith aspect to that service. The Better Together Campaign and the Interfaith Impact are groups focused on serving others and working together for coexistence in communities, regardless of religion. “This is not an organization, this is a movement,” Young said.

Similar Reads👯‍♀️