I never thought about the power of an interfaith dialogue in overcoming social issues. In fact, this past spring was the first time this idea had ever been presented to me. This idea inspires me, as a global studies major and a global citizen, because many of the conflicts and wars I read about in class and raise awareness for are often tied to religious difference in some way.

The Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a national organization dedicated to building religious
 pluralism through interfaith cooperation and leadership, created the Better Together Campaign. The Campaign works to engage individuals with and without faith traditions in the creation of an interfaith dialogue through social work. The Campaign is in its fourth year here in the Athens community, sponsored by United Campus Ministry. This year’s Better Together Team is focused on fundraising for the Community Food InitiativeS (CFI) to raise awareness about food insecurity in the region. This focus will serve as the social work component and basis for the continued construction of our community’s interfaith consciousness.

Our work to build interfaith engagement has manifested itself in movie screenings, penny wars, and the cleaning of a polluted ravine to not only raise money for CFI but to also bring greater social, environmental and interfaith harmony to this lovely region of Southeast Ohio. And that’s not all, because the Better Together Team is just getting started.

We have a strong foundation of interfaith leaders hosted in that big, red brick house at 18 North College. We are working tirelessly to build bridges between all faiths in order to harness the power we possess to make this world a more peaceful place. Look for us in the community orchestrating peace walks, rallies and events to fuel this flourishing interfaith movement!

September 11th Peace Walk to Demonstrate We Are Better Together

Wednesday September 11, students, Athenians, and local faith communities will take to the streets for the third annual Interfaith Peace Walk. The walk will begin at 7pm at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on University Terrace and will end at the Islamic Center on Stewart Street. Taking place against the backdrop of escalating tension and potential military intervention in Syria, as well as the dozens of other persistent conflicts throughout the world, the Interfaith Peace Walk offers people of all faiths--or no faith tradition--in the Athens and Ohio University communities an opportunity to demonstrate our common commitment to a more peaceful, fair, and free world.
"We all know the phrase 'peace be with you,'" says the Reverend Evan Young, UCM's Campus Minister. "Many of us can't hear the phrase without giving the automatic response used in many churches--'and also with you.' We're walking on September 11th to show that these are more than just words--that they call us to action, to public witness, to advocacy for a different way of being humanity together."
The march will make the rounds of the uptown churches, starting at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd and making its way past First United Methodist Church, Athens First Presbyterian, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Hillel at OU, St. Paul Catholic Church, Christ Lutheran Church, and Christ the King University Parish, and will end with a gathering at the Islamic Center.
Sponsors of the peace walk include Better Together at Ohio University and OU's University College. Local faith communities sponsoring the walk include UCM Center for Spiritual Growth & Social Justice, Athens First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Athens First Presbyterian Church, Athens Friends Meeting, Christ Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, the First United Methodist Church of Athens, Hillel at Ohio University, the Muslim Student Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens.
The march is part of the Better Together campaign at Ohio University, which is a continuing student-led effort to mobilize college students from different faith backgrounds to engage in community service together to make Ohio University a better place for everyone.

UCM Participates in 4th Interfaith Leadership Institute

Interfaith Leadership Institute Conference (ILI) – 
An Inward Journey of Leadership, Tolerance, & Inspiration
By Javad Anjum, Doctoral Student in Aphasiology, OU          

Javad, IFYC Founder Eboo Patel and UCM Director Melissa Wales at ILI Aug. 2014
When I signed up to attend the three-day ILI Conference in New York City this summer, I experienced a range of emotions from excitement and curiosity, to uncertainty and anxiety. Although I have actively engaged in facilitating youth leadership activities and promoting interfaith harmony at a smaller level in Ohio University, it was the first time I was going to experience aspects of interfaith cooperation and leadership initiatives at the national level. As I come to find out later, the conference had a significant international participation, wherein allies and students from various parts of the world actively engaged; in an array of interfaith leadership training sessions and celebrated interactions with fellow attendees from diverse faiths, denominations, and traditions.
                  I went to the conference with a broader idea of what to expect, and did my homework of thoroughly browsing the IFYC website and formulating questions that would help me gain more clarity into the Better Together Movement in general and my role as an interfaith leader in specific. The conference provided me with an engaging experience wherein, I was able to discuss with fellow allies and students about what interfaith cooperation meant to them and learn more about their interfaith work across campuses and communities. This not only instilled in me a sense of belongingness to the community of interfaith leaders, but also presented me with novel and creative ideas to fuel our own interfaith cooperation efforts at Ohio University. It was great to see interfaith leaders from diverse affiliations working in cohesion across campuses and communities to restore and enable peaceful and harmonious coexistence. I learned that successful interfaith leaders had a few things in common; first, they never talked about what was “different” among people. They always appreciated positive and shared values across different faiths and denominations and identified ways of working together with a sense of unified purpose. Second, interfaith leaders strived to develop “positive relationships” with people who may hold “different” views. Third, they promote a “safe space”, wherein fruitful interfaith discussion and community service efforts are realized without any threat of fear, anxiety, or prejudice. Finally, interfaith leaders are very passionate about their work. Equipped with a contagious enthusiasm for interfaith work, they readily share personal “stories” that motivated them to choose the path of interfaith cooperation. During the duration of the conference, I observed that every attendee was willing to share their experience in doing interfaith work and were open to collaborations for future projects.
The individual training and plenary sessions of the conference were carefully crafted to inspire, motivate, and enable allies and students in performing interfaith work. It was hard to overlook the ingrained culture of interfaith diversity and tolerance at the conference. I felt that we are all part of a larger movement and our unique identities, aspirations, and efforts are helping to take this cause forward. While the individual sessions focused on enhancing and facilitating interfaith cooperation knowledge and skills, plenary sessions included guest speakers and team discussions. Most individual sessions included training both students and allies in delegations of 3-4, (such as Ohio University, Utah Valley University, and Ohio State University, etc.,) which not only helped us focus our efforts into improving interfaith work in our own campuses, but also provided an ideal platform to discuss individual strategies and tips with other campuses as well. Additionally, some individual training sessions were conducted separately students and allies, wherein the training module and content was designed to address specific issues facing interfaith work. Plenary sessions were highlighted by insightful and engaging talks by guest speakers including Eboo Patel and past ILI Alumni, who provided valuable tenets of their knowledge and current efforts in interfaith cooperation. These talks offered wonderful opportunities for the attendees to seek solutions for challenges and problems they were facing in their interfaith work. Some of the important topics included handling challenging conversations, enhancing campus presence for interfaith work and leadership, seeking funding and resources, and identifying potential allies.
I noticed that the ILI conference inculcated in me, a series of small, significant, and insightful changes that have positively impacted my interfaith beliefs and helped me gain clarity of vision as an interfaith leader. The experience has given me a tool kit that I can utilize design, develop, collaborate, and convene interfaith work at Ohio University, and beyond. I have learned from the experience of other allies at the ILI, the challenges we are facing as interfaith leaders and the solutions we need to formulate. I look forward to applying my knowledge and skills I obtained at the ILI, to enhance current interfaith efforts by UCM in Athens. Specifically, I envision to contribute significantly to the Better Together campaign at Ohio University in its current mission of promoting interfaith cooperation in the campus through community service projects and interfaith initiatives. I recommend ILI to anyone interested in interfaith work and youth leadership. There is something to learn for everyone, regardless of the type of faith, affiliation, and denomination or the level of current involvement in interfaith work.

Better Together at OU receives honorable mention by IFYC!

----B R E A K I N G    N E W S ------  This just in! Better Together at Ohio University received honorable mention for "Loudest Voice" for successfully spreading the word about interfaith cooperation and the Better Together campaign. Given that we WON the Best Campus Impact award last year, it's very cool to be mentioned AGAIN this year among this very select group of campuses. Way to go Allison, Anne, Phil, Joannah, Abby, Olivia, and all the other Better Together students! We're looking forward to a great 2013-14 campaign and will be sending two more students and UCM Director Melissa Wales to an Interfaith Leadership Institute in New York City this August to build on this momentum and develop more interfaith campus leaders!

Better Together wraps up one year and plans for 2013-141

Ohio University's Better Together Campaign thrived this year with students leading the 9-11 Interfaith Peace Walk, raising “a ton of food” for the SE Ohio Foodbank, participating in two watershed service-learning clean-up projects with interfaith reflection, organizing an interfaith panel on faith and violence, hosting the first Better Together Day (April 4) with a focus on interfaith movements for social change, in-service trainings to residential  housing staff, and weekly participation in Interfaith Impact, Thursday Supper and Saturday Lunch. With the support of OU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, we were able to send two students, Olivia Bullock and Phil Morehead to the Interfaith Youth Core’s Interfaith Leadership Institute and will send two more this August. The campus and community interest in this kind of work just keeps growing and recent tragedies in Boston and elsewhere remind us of the urgent importance of building interfaith bridges. How is this impacting the students and overall climate at Ohio University? Here’s a glimpse.

PHIL MOREHEAD is currently a third year student who found his way to Better Together and United Campus Ministry because of his participation in the 2011 Interfaith Peace Walk. A self-proclaimed “party-guy” who was ambivalent about his Jewish faith, Phil was so moved by his experience with the Peace Walk, which brings together many campus and community faith groups and congregations, that he sought out an internship at UCM in fall 2012, which included participation on the Better Together Steering Committee. He played a leadership role in the Peace Walk as a walk organizer and “wrangler” (keeping people safe and on the designated route), as well as assisting with sound amplification for the speakers at the church, Hillel, and the Islamic Center. He regularly participates in UCM’s Interfaith Impact weekly meetings and, in that interfaith space and community, he found himself being drawn to examine and engage more deeply with his own faith tradition and so began attending Shabbat services at Hillel.  UCM and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion sponsored his participation in the Interfaith Youth Core Leadership Institute in Atlanta (January 2013), where he further developed his skills to lead Better Together and organize for interfaith community on campus. It was an experience that he called nothing short of “life changing.”
“I don’t know what I’ve been doing the past three years. My friends don’t understand why I’ve changed over the last year, but I’ve found something more important to do with my time than just the party scene. It’s because of UCM.” He reflected on the power of the leadership weekend and the friendships he’d made there, most notably with a Muslim student from another campus. “We talked for hours and I learned so much about the similarities between our faiths.” He also learned the importance of listening. “I only shared my story a few times, whereas I found myself much more ready to listen to others. I learned about religions that I knew little about and came to the realization that we all strive for the same virtues: peace, love, and acceptance.”

Phil will help lead the 2013-14 Better Together campaign with an interest in engaging his peer group in interfaith service. This spring he led an Interfaith Impact by sharing his experiences and perspectives on being Jewish and organized a “field trip” to Hillel for Shabbat services. He continues to be inspired by the possibilities of interfaith community while moving through his own personal transformation and re-engaging with his Jewish faith. We are excited to see where Phil will take Better Together 2013-14!

Religious leaders host discussion, show solidarity | The Post

View Original Post:  Religious leaders host discussion, show solidarity | The Post

Religious leaders host discussion, show solidarity

Ohio University sophomore Omar Kurdi speaks about violence at a panel that brought together members of five different religious institutions. (Sara Kramer | For The Post )
Five members from different religious institutions in Athens came together Monday night to start a dialogue about violence and faith in regards to their different belief sets as part of Ohio University’s Better Together campaign.
The panel included representatives from five faiths: Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, director of Hillel at OU; Omar Kurdi, communication chair of the Muslim Student Association; Rob Martin, reverend at First Presbyterian Church; Tiffanie Shanks, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at First United Methodist Church; and Stephen Kropf, assistant director of the Athens KTC Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center.
Allison Schoeppner, campus organizer of the Better Together campaign at OU, said having these leaders in a room together while discussing a topic such as violence helps relieve the preconception of division between religions.
“(This) is not an image of faith that we see a lot in the media in our society,” said Schoeppner, a junior studying international studies and war and peace. “It shows solidarity, the fact that there are similarities between religions; it shows that there are issues that we can find commonality on and work together on to help end.”
Evan Young, moderator for the panel, which hosted about 15 attendees, said the event fostered a type of discussion necessary for bridging gaps among religions.
“It’s a challenge sometimes to have a panel where people don’t speak in the abstract, where they don’t talk about big ideas and grand philosophies but instead speak from a place of personal experience and their own struggles,” added Young, minister at United Campus Ministries and the Universalist Fellowship of Athens. “That was one of the aims of the panel, and I think we got there.”
The panel focused on a variety of aspects on the topic of violence as interpreted by different faiths. The conversation began with Young asking questions to participants and then opened up to audience participation. Discussion ranged from recent events like the verdict of the highly publicized Steubenville rape case to the fundamental causes of violence.
“Faith should be the place where people find answers,” Shanks said. “(It should be) where they can find comfort, and where they find peace. All faith traditions (should) take time to address these kinds of questions.”

We are all more human than otherwise

Written by Richard S. Gilbert

The human race is a vast rainbow bursting into view.
of white and black, red, yellow and brown. Yet for all blood is red, the sky is blue, the earth brown, the night dark.
In size and shape we are a varied pattern
of tall and short, slim and stout, elegant and plain.
Yet for all there are fingers to touch, hearts to break, eyes to cry, ears to hear, mouths to speak.
In tongue we are a tower of babel, a great jumble of voices grasping for words, groping for ways to say love, peace, pity, and hope.
Faiths compete, claiming the one way;
Saviours abound, pointing to salvation.
Not all can be right, not one.
We are united only by our urge to search.
Boundaries divide us, lines drawn to mark our diversity,
maps charted to separate the human race from itself.
Yet a mother's grief, a father's love, a child's happy cry,
a musician's sound, an artist's stroke, batter the boundaries and shatter the walls.
Strength and weakness, arrogance and humility, confidence and fear, live together in each one, reminding us that we share a our common humanity.
We are all more human than otherwise.


OU Students Attend Interfaith Leadership Institute

United Campus Ministry (UCM) and the OU Office of Diversity and Inclusion sponsored two Ohio University undergraduate students' participation in an Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI) in Atlanta in January. ILIs are organized by Interfaith Youth Core and their purpose is to train university students, faculty, staff and administration to be movement builders for interfaith cooperation and action. Over a hundred students, from all and no religious affiliations, came together to learn skills and strategies to overcome challenges in interfaith organizing through programs and movements like Better Together, which has been active at OU since 2011. "We've been very fortunate to be able to send students to this training the last few years and to build sustainability into our interfaith efforts," said UCM Campus Minister Evan Young. "At the ILI students learn how to voice their values, engage with others across faith traditions, and act together on shared values to tackle pressing community issues like poverty and the environment."

Philip Morehead identifies as Jewish and is a junior Health Services Administration major from Athens.  Olivia Simkins Bullock of Sylvania, Ohio identifies as Buddhist and is a sophomore majoring in Geography and East Asian Studies.  Both students participated in the weekend-long ILI in Atlanta in late January 2013, and will become leaders of the Better Together campaign at OU. “The Interfaith Leadership Institute was life-changing and I’m excited to move the campaign forward and get more students aware of and excited about it,” said Morehead. Bullock reflected, “I was excited to see atheist and agnostic students represented at the Institute, proving this interfaith movement is truly inclusive.” This semester, Better Together at OU’s goal is to “Raise a Ton of Food” for the Southeast Ohio Foodbank. Upcoming events include a Dance Better Together Masquerade Ball and Fundraiser in Baker Center’s Bobcat Student Lounge on Wednesday, February 20, 7pm – 9pm. The event will feature DJ Barticus and is free and open to all students, who are encouraged to bring a dollar donation for the Foodbank.  Students will also partner again with Monday Creek Watershed Restoration Project to Serve Better Together on Sunday, April 14 at a watershed clean-up project. Transportation and pizza will be provided.  The Better Together student steering committee meets Sunday nights at UCM.

In 2012, Ohio University’s Better Together campaign received the Best Campus Impact award in the nationwide 2012 Better Together initiative, which took place on more than 100 college campuses during the 2011-12 academic year.  The Better Together campaign is supported by United Campus Ministry and is a partner in the Ohio University White House Interfaith Service Campus Challenge with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Residential Housing. Highlights of the year-long Better Together campaign include an Annual 9-11 Interfaith Peace Walk, community service projects, Interfaith Impact weekly discussion group, Interfaith Passport, speakers, panels and other events.

"Ohio University should very proud of the fact that our students are being recognized nationally as leaders in the interfaith movement, which seeks to build bridges across persistent divisions between faith traditions through shared experiences of service to the community. UCM looks forward to continuing our support of Better Together and making more opportunities for leadership development available to students,” said Melissa Wales, advisor to Better Together at OU and Executive Director of United Campus Ministry.

For more information or to learn how you can participate, contact or call 740-593-7301.

Dr. King's Vietnam Speech

"There comes a time when silence is betrayal." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Most people have heard of Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech. But did you know that he gave a speech stating his opposition to the Vietnam War exactly one year before his assassination? This speech, entitled “Beyond Vietnam, a Time to Break the Silence,” was the most controversial speech of his career. He openly questioned U.S. foreign policy, asking why our country was fighting to “secure rights” for Vietnamese people that the American soldiers were unable to enjoy in their own country. He also criticized the war because it consumed all of the money that the government could have used to improve life for poor Americans. This speech caused Dr. King to lose a significant number of his supporters, including his support from the government. He knew that he would lose popularity; however, as he emphasized in his speech, he could not remain silent. He knew that he could not be an icon of peace and be silent about Vietnam. 

So what? 

Are you willing to stand up for peace? In the words of Dr. King, "Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice." If you stand for peace, you do not stand for injustice, regardless of whether or not it directly affects you. In your daily life, are you standing up for justice? 

Excerpt from "Beyond Vietnam"

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.