A place for people of faith and no-faith to explore shared values, build respect and mutually inspiring relationships, and pursue common action for the common good

Another year done!

In Better Together, Elmhurst College, Interfaith on May 16, 2011 at 6:00 am

This is my last post on this blog as Interfaith Youth Core Fellow, next year, I will continue coordinating the blog however, as Secretary of the Spiritual Life Council. Next year, this blog will be again tracking the work of the Better Together Campaign and will also be a face of the Spiritual Life Council. We will be hosting guest blogs from Spiritual Life Council members, members of next year’s B2G steering committee, and EC Community members to continue working to make interfaith cooperation the social norm at Elmhurst as the college moves into a theme year focusing on Democracy and Civic Engagement. If you are interested in becoming a guest contributor or working on the campaign or with SLC, let me know!

Rachel (“Rae”) Nelson is a junior at Elmhurst College, pursuing a major in Political-Religious Justice Studies. You can follow Rae on Twitter at (@PhosphrescntRae) where she posts about faith, gender and sexuality, and American Indian issues in addition to interfaith matters. To see more of Rae, please visit the Elmhurst College Interfaith blog at ecinterfaith.wordpress.com.

I have been honored to work with IFYC at Elmhurst this year, organizing my peers and community to make a difference in the world using our shared faith and philosophical values, beyond doing physical service work at the People’s Resource Center throughout the spring semester’s Better Together Campaign, we also built relationships through conversation about and exploration of one another’s values and faith and philosophical traditions at the What If…? Speak In last fall. I especially loved that, this year, my college was able to interact with the larger Elmhurst Community around faith and interfaith issues through the Still Speaking: Conversations on Faith lecture series of the College.

The year has been full of social events, like Western Night, during Orientation, and the Bon Fire in October, events around education, like Got Faith? Week, many SLC meetings, and the What If…? Speak In. The fall of 2010 was all about asking questions, while the spring was focused on service and action work, like Dr. Ray suggested to us at the opening SLC meeting of the school year.

Got Faith? Week

During Got Faith? Week we had several great events, including one about foods from different faiths, during which we learned about why some faiths have dietary restrictions, about traditional foods from different faiths and cultures, and of course enjoying these great foods! The week also included an event hosted by Spiritual Life Council and Muslim Student’s Association about day in the Life of an American Muslim:


 What IF…? Speak In

The nearly 60 people at the Speak In asked each other “What if people of many faiths and traditions at Elmhurst College worked together to affect hunger issues in our community?” and “What if our generation changes the way we talk about religion?”

At the Speak In, we shared lots of ideas about what the Better Together Campaign should focus on during its spring semester work. The gathered group said we wanted to try to work with either Chicago Community Trust, Community Kitchen, Hesed House, Northern Illinois Food Bank, People’s Resource Center, or build a Community Garden. The Better Together Steering Committee eventually decided on People’s Resource Center (but hopefully in the 2011-2012 year we’ll be working with a local garden!).

Better Together Campaign Work

Through the spring, I had the huge pleasure of working with People’s Resource Center (PRC) and taking students several times to Wheaton to volunteer. Then, at the Better Together Bash in April, we collected $76 for the People’s Resource Center, as well as 100 packages of maxi pads, from at least 50 people who came by to celebrate interfaith cooperation at Elmhurst College!

Photo Credit: Sara Schroeder http://www.flickr.com/photos/andendquote/

I have learned, this year, that even though it can be scary to talk about faith, a topic that can make people feel vulnerable, we want to, we just need to build safe relationships with those whom we enter conversation with…and we can do that through service.

Before I went to drop the donations to the People’s Resource Center after the Better Together Bash, I checked the website to make sure they were taking donations that day. While looking at the donation schedule, I glanced at the “donation needs” list and noticed that none of the things we had collected were on the list anymore.

I considered calling ahead and confirming that they would take the donations, but couldn’t find my phone, so I just drove over to the center, hoping they wouldn’t turn a whole car-full of donations (of stuff that had been listed as a need, a fortnight previous) away. When I got to PRC, I asked if they still needed hygiene supplies and maxi pads, to which I heard “yes, we desperately need both; we are almost out of pads.”

It felt strange to bring a car-load of things they didn’t even advertize that they needed (but, from our experience through the semester, we knew were items that the center went through pretty fast), but to have the response to my question be “yes, desperately.”

I’ve come to think of this encounter as a sort of metaphor for what this year has been for Elmhurst. We are a school who, historically, holds faith and conversations about faith with esteem and encourages students to engage their faith (or non-faith, or questioning spirituality) in the world and with others in order to grow in faith, but in the day-to-day our student population struggles to talk about faith or religion as much as any other group of 18-23 year olds— and the solution is often to avoid places where it might come up. We don’t think we need the conversations on faith.

But this year, I found that as the space to talk about faith and religion was offered, around something we are comfortable doing— service— members of our community realized we needed these encounters “desperately” to begin stirring our faith, questions, values, and reasons for doing service.

Photo Credit: Sara Schroeder http://www.flickr.com/photos/andendquote/

What’s next?

 Elmhurst, next year, will be running the Better Together Campaign again, this  time through the Spiritual Life Council. EC is also working on the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge, and while the campus enters a theme year of Democracy and Civic Engagement, there will be some sort of interfaith focus on workers rights and further economic justice. If you’re interested in joining our efforts, from Elmhurst College or the surrounding community, email us! slc[at]net[dot]elmhurst[dot]edu!

Other ideas that came out of the Speak In about how we, as individuals can affect hunger in our community were:

  • Instead of giving a homeless person money, buy them a meal and hear their story
  • Pass the word around about these issues! TALK
  • Pay for the groceries of the person behind you in line
  • Pass out lunches to homeless in Chicago
  • Set up a used book sale: Books for cans
  • Food donations with j-pass points
  • Show Food, Inc. Movie
  • Support Bread for the World
  • Smile!
  • Hold open the Door
  • Show your values
  • Volunteer at soup kitchens
  • Skip a meal, donate $$ to food pantry
  • Information sessions for the facts and education!
  • Host dinner parties instead of going out to eat
  • Google “compassion” J Live it ❤ Love it ❤
  • freerice.com
  • Talk about faith.
  • Coordinate a common read around these issues

try one today and start changing the world!

Finally, I have to extend a huge THANK YOU to the following student, campus and community groups/organizations/departments and groups of students for their support in making Interfaith Cooperation a social norm at Elmhurst: Sigma Kappa, First Year Seminar, Campus Crusade for Christ, Secular Students Association, Muslim Student Association, Spiritual Life Council, APO, The Learning Center, Honors Program, Catholic Students, Office of the Chaplain, Intercultural Student Affairs, Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement, Office of Student Affairs/Dean of Students, Office of Community Relations , Religion Department, Niebuhr Center, Social Knowhow Collective,  and many many others!

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