Twice a month, students and community members gather in the Cedar Commons space adjacent to Augsburg’s campus, intentionally coming together to build relationships across faith and non-faith traditions and learn from each other’s experiences, stories, and convictions. Coordinated through the Sabo Center for Democracy & Citizenship, Interfaith at Cedar Commons is one of many initiatives based at the Sabo Center that connect the Augsburg campus and the wider community. Gathering around a topic and often a meal, participants discuss subjects ranging from Islamophobia to religious holidays, human rights, political activism, and creation stories. The inter-generational group involves faith communities from the Augsburg campus and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and integrates the Interfaith Scholars program, cultivating student and community-based leadership.
Shoshana Freund and Bethany Keyl are two Augsburg students who have been involved with Interfaith at Cedar Commons as current or past interns with the core team of students and community members that plans the gatherings. They described the interfaith events as open, welcoming spaces where topics and faith and non-faith perspectives are understood to be complex. For Shoshana, an atheist, the complexity of these discussions were refreshing. Speaking from her experience on the planning team, Shoshana described how the topics chosen for the events are designed to help people from all paths–including those who do not practice a religion–to find common ground through storytelling and experience sharing. Often this leads to new, profound understandings of people and communities who might otherwise have remained “Other.” Interfaith is an opportunity for students and others to see that “people of other belief systems are not antagonists,” Shoshana said. “Their beliefs don’t exist to contradict yours.” Bethany noted that the gatherings are an opportunity to find “common ground” and to “foster understanding” through the experiences and stories of people who come from different traditions.
Beyond story-sharing and relationship-building, Interfaith at Cedar Commons is also focused on building skills for inter-faith organizing. Activities such as power-mapping, one-to-one trainings, and other aspects of community organizing have been regular additions to the 2016-17 school year interfaith meetings. These skill-based sessions, along with the practice of having nuanced and complex conversations about meaning, core commitments, and the role of different faith traditions in the world with community members from campus and beyond, makes Interfaith at Cedar Commons a program that embodies the Sabo Center’s commitment to “create a culture of civic agency and engagement among students, faculty, staff, and our broader community so that graduates are architects of change and pioneers in work of public significance.”
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