How ‘Trip Interfaith College’ helped construct connections in Maryland

(Interfaith America)  — On a Thursday night in early August, Tameeka Washington discovered herself standing outdoors the mosque on the Diyanet Heart of America campus not removed from her dwelling in Bowie, Maryland. It was the second night time of her newest mission — “Trip Interfaith College” — and she or he and a bunch of younger college students have been anticipating a tour and to study a number of issues about how Muslims stay out their religion.

Washington first moved to Bowie along with her husband in 2007. On the time, she had no concept she’d turn into a grassroots organizer, a lot much less one who began an interfaith summer time camp and labored shoulder-to-shoulder with religion leaders and neighborhood members from totally different traditions.

However in 2020 because the pandemic began to take maintain all around the globe, she heard a calling. The message was considerably imprecise. “I used to be like, we have to do one thing,” she stated. “However I didn’t know who ‘we’ was.”

As a Seventh-day Adventist, she usually finds herself being guided by a have to serve within the right here and now. “I can’t not assist. My religion is an enormous a part of why I do this and what my understanding of who God is.”

That summer time, as massive protests towards the homicide of George Floyd started to unfold in neighboring Washington, D.C., and past, she discovered herself wanting to affix the general public outcry however had some issues. “Of us have been headed to D.C., and I used to be like, we’re nonetheless in the course of a pandemic. That appears loopy,” she stated.

So she reached out to her native metropolis officers and with their help organized a vigil for the residents of Bowie. Amongst those that spoke out towards racial violence that Saturday night time in June have been neighborhood members in addition to metropolis and state officers, native legislation enforcement and clergy.

How ‘Trip Interfaith College’ helped construct connections in Maryland

Tameeka Washington, president and founding father of Interfaith Coalition of Bowie, visits Diyanet Heart of America, August 2022. (© Shelby Swann Images)

Stephen Weisman, rabbi of Temple Solel, a Reform congregation, was one of many clergy who spoke. He met Washington for the primary time that night and was impressed along with her organizing abilities. The 2 turned pals. This fortuitous encounter between an Adventist and a rabbi shortly developed from friendship to skilled collaboration and immediately Washington jokingly refers to Weisman as her co-conspirator in neighborhood organizing.

Three weeks after the vigil, Washington organized an internet panel dialogue to speak about religion, race and social justice. Along with metropolis leaders, Washington invited Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy, together with Weisman, to talk to the neighborhood about their issues.

“I do know for me the query is, the place’s God in all of this?” she stated. “If I’ve these questions, any person else has this query. So let’s see if we will’t get some solutions for people.”

The occasion was a hit and fueled her need to do extra. It additionally helped crystallize her imaginative and prescient for the right way to greatest give again. She credit Weisman for serving to understand her calling. “I instructed her what we want is a lay led group that’s going to assist bond clergy collectively throughout moments like this,” he stated.

In 2020 she launched the Interfaith Coalition of Bowie.

At this time the coalition supplies a platform for a various group of religion leaders and neighborhood members to return collectively within the title of social justice as brokers for change. Even amid a pandemic, they’ve been a daily presence within the public sq. these final two years.

The religion-oriented on-line panel discussions proceed and canopy a variety of well timed points: religion and important race principle; fostering inclusive neighborhood for LGBTQ youth in non secular areas; autism and faith; and science-based details about the COVID-19 vaccine, to call however a number of.

The Rev. Emily Holladay, a pastor at Village Baptist Church, is among the many clergy who’s a part of the interfaith coalition. “How many individuals are you aware who say, I’m not a clergy individual, I simply go to church,” she stated. “However I would like the clergy to return collectively as a result of I believe they will have an effect on the neighborhood.”

With hate-based violence and extremism on the rise nationally, it’s this type of neighborhood constructing that cities as various as Bowie are primed for.

In accordance with the 2020 U.S. Census, of Bowie’s 58,000 residents, 56% are Black, 32% are white, 7% are Hispanic and 4% are Asian.

Bowie State College is without doubt one of the nation’s 10 oldest traditionally Black schools. Earlier this 12 months the varsity was amongst quite a lot of traditionally Black colleges throughout the nation that acquired bomb threats throughout Black Historical past Month. College students have been compelled to shelter in place.

Across the similar time, antisemitic flyers appeared in neighborhoods throughout the realm.

In response, the interfaith coalition Washington based sponsored a “Bowie United for Peace” rally the place metropolis officers, neighborhood leaders and clergy introduced a united entrance denouncing the incidents. Representatives from Bowie State have been additionally available. Rhonda Jeter, dean of the School of Schooling at Bowie, instructed native media: “I’m excited for the entire individuals pulling collectively locally and the religion teams. I believe it’s actually good.”

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Creating alternatives for individuals to return collectively within the title of a extra tolerant and simply society is an enormous motivator for Washington, however she’s equally keen about reaching the neighborhood’s youthful inhabitants.

This summer time the coalition organized a three-day summer time camp for 8- to 12-year-olds and referred to as it “Trip Interfaith College.”

Weisman, who has run Jewish summer time camps previously, stated, “Trip Bible colleges have a major place within the Christian neighborhood. But it surely’s a silo constructing train, as a result of each church runs their very own.” He contends {that a} camp like this one not solely emphasizes a shared understanding amongst these of various faiths (or none), but it surely additionally has a means of breaking down silo partitions.

The children visited Village Baptist Church in Bowie, the Diyanet Heart of America in neighboring Lanham and United Parish of Bowie, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and United Church of Christ congregation.

Storm clouds clear over Diyanet Center of America in Lanham, Maryland, August 2022. (© Shelby Swann Photography)

Storm clouds clear over Diyanet Heart of America in Lanham, Maryland, August 2022. (© Shelby Swann Images)

For the go to to Village Baptist, Holladay organized a scavenger hunt within the church and allowed the children to play the organ and stand on the pulpit. She confirmed them the baptistry and defined its function and what made it distinctive to Baptists.

On the mosque, the youngsters discovered about why Muslims pray 5 instances day and when.

“One of many little ones was asking in regards to the baptismal pool, was it a scorching tub?” Washington stated, laughing. “However I believe having the children in numerous sacred areas with out it being a service and having the ability to transfer round and ask questions and contact issues was actually useful.”

Whereas the curriculum remained free for the inaugural model of the camp, Washington desires to construct on what they discovered labored and what didn’t and plans to supply it once more subsequent summer time.

Regardless of working full time and elevating two youngsters who’re 8 and 14, Washington is keen to proceed the work and discover alternatives for collaboration. The Bowie interfaith coalition just lately partnered with one other nonprofit elevating cash for an Afghan household who’ve come to the realm as refugees.

In creating the coalition, Washington has come to understand why this type of engagement is important at instances like these. “(Earlier than this) there have been issues taking place in my neighborhood and I used to be sleepwalking by means of it,” she stated. “I’m so centered on ensuring that my youngsters are OK, my husband’s OK, that I’m OK. I wish to ensure that not solely are we OK, inside our home, however the people round us are OK, as a result of these are our neighbors, proper? And all of us should be good.”

A model of this text initially appeared in Interfaith America journal.

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