Interfaith Group to Serve Refugee Family

With much anxiety and full of hope, our Interfaith Good Neighbor Team on Thursday will welcome a refugee family from Ethiopia. The team has committed to work closely with the family over the next six months to ease resettlement into their new community. The family includes a single mother, age 33; boys ages 4 and 9; and a girl age 6. The family is being placed through the High Point/Winston-Salem offices of World Relief, one of nine resettlement agencies approved by the federal government.

Volunteers will stock the apartment with furniture and supplies, assist with applying for Social Security cards; assist in seeking employment opportunities; assist in registering with the Department of Social Services for food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, etc.; assist with initial health assessments and securing primary care providers; assist in setting up bank accounts and paying bills such as rent and utilities; and many other activities.

Volunteers and friends have contributed over $2,000 to World Relief to help cover operational expenses, and Interfaith Winston-Salem, through its Compassionate Winston-Salem program, has set aside $1,000 to help the family create a home in this community.

The interfaith volunteers began meeting in February to explore the possibility of forming a Good Neighbor Team. Each member has completed a formal application, has participated in four hours of orientation and training and has had a background screening.

Members of the team are Brooke Suiter, Carolyn Coram, Jerry McLeese, Jo Ann Mount, Johnne Armentrout, Joy Troyer, Judith Saxton, Judy Greene, Kate Weaver (and Ella and Cole), Kathy Watts, Nancy Gould, Sarah Blackwell, Shereen Abdelfattah Gomaa, Tasha Strupe and Truman Dunn. Others will be joining the team.

For more information contact interfaithws@gmail.com.

West Forsyth Forms Interfaith Service Club

With the leadership from Noor Shehata, West Forsyth High School will begin an Interfaith Service Club this fall.  Noor, a rising senior at West, has identified two sponsors for the club and will work on creating a club constitution and goals for the group.

West Forsyth joins Reynolds as Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools with interfaith service clubs. Isaac Cooper, who is a member of Temple Emanuel, led the formation of a club at Reynolds this spring.  He is a rising junior.

Interfaith Winston-Salem has also begun discussions with a student at Mount Tabor High School to explore the possibility of forming a club there.

Interfaith Winston-Salem assists students with formation of the clubs, which are based on the model created by the Interfaith Youth Core (IYFC), headquartered in Chicago. IYFC’s model on more than 200 college and university campuses features three core components of interfaith cooperation: respect for religious identity, mutually inspiring relationships and common action for common good.

Students, faculty or staff who are interested in forming an interfaith service club in their school can contact Interfaith Winston-Salem for more information at interfaithws@gmail.com.

Muslim-Christian Meetings to Help Build Understanding

                  The frequency of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the U.S. has grown at an alarming rate over the last year.  Although virtually every minority and marginalized group has been affected, the Southern Poverty Law Center says that the Muslim community has been targeted most often.

                  The Winston-Salem area has not been immune. On Feb. 16, at least one participant in a meeting in Kernersville called for the murder of Muslims. “My only recommendation is to start killing the hell out of them,” that participant said, according to published reports. “I’m ready to start taking people out.”   

The meeting included a presentation on “a supposed Muslim plot to conquer the United States,” media reports said. “Shed some blood, too,” the same participant said in response to the presenter’s call to “shed some light” on the issue, according to the council.

As an organization created to bring peace through understanding, Interfaith Winston-Salem has a responsibility to address the root causes of the hate and to work to improve relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Our first response was collaboration on Friday, Feb. 24 with representatives of Forsyth County’s three Islamic mosques – Annoor Islamic Center in Clemmons, The Community Mosque on Waughtown Street and Masjid al-Mu’minun on Harriet Tubman Blvd. – to invite members of the community to open houses at the mosques.  Several hundred people came, many entering a mosque and meeting a Muslim for the first time.

Since then, representatives of Interfaith Winston-Salem have continued to work with representatives of the three mosques to identify other ways to build understanding. Approximately 20 members of the mosques have volunteered to meet with non-Muslim groups.

Over the last few weeks we have met with representatives of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Yadkin Valley District of the United Methodist Church and individual Presbyterian and United Methodist churches.

While tailoring future Muslim-Christian gatherings to specific needs and situations, we will be using two primary models. The goal in both cases is to avoid “talking to the choir,” to reach people who have neutral or negative impressions of Muslims and Islam.

1.     In planning for the Moravian Church Missions Society meeting in August, we will ask representatives on the Society board to invite someone who they know has concerns about Muslims or about the Islamic religion.

2.     The recommended basic format for other gatherings is to have at least one Muslim meet with non-Muslims in small groups around tables to discuss questions, share values and talk about how they live out the calls of their faiths. The sessions will conclude with comments from table leaders and answers to questions submitted in advance. We expect to use this format when we meet with members of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem in July.

As we move forward with the meetings, we will make adjustments to ensure that everyone is gaining the greatest benefit.

                  Interfaith Winston-Salem welcomes other churches and groups to contact us if they would like to be part of this ongoing effort.  We can be reached by email at interfaithws@gmail.com.

Envisioning A Compassionate Winston Salem

                      Throughout its history, the U.S. has found its greatest unity when facing its greatest adversity (repression as colonies of England, two world wars, 9/11, etc.). During those perilous times we have shunted lesser internal concerns aside to focus on existential threats.

            However, in the absence of an external enemy, we polarize ourselves into a state of paralysis.  We sink deeper into our blueness or our redness and fail to recognize, as cartoonist Walt Kelly reminds us, that we have met the enemy and it is us.  The purity of our redness and the superiority of our blueness obscure the essence of our oneness, our humanity.

            When Interfaith Winston-Salem was organized five years ago, we acknowledged that religious polarization was a division we wanted to address.  Our goal was peace through understanding. We knew we would never overcome fear until we overcame ignorance.

            Just over a year later, in 2013 our group worked with Mayor Allen Joines and City Council on the Charter for Compassion. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and religious historian Karen Armstrong had issued a challenge for cities across the globe to endorse the charter, to live by the Golden Rule and treat others as they would want to be treated.

The mayor and council unanimously endorsed the charter July 15, 2013, giving Winston-Salem the honor of being only the 18th city in the world to make such a commitment. Our elected officials took this bold step even before cities like Atlanta and San Francisco. More than 70 government entities across the world now have formally endorsed the charter and hundreds of other communities are working to live out the call for compassion.

Six of the seven council members who endorsed the Charter for Compassion in 2013 continue to serve on the council: Denise D. Adams, Dan Besse, Vivian H. Burke, Robert C. Clark, Derwin L. Montgomery and James Taylor Jr. The only newcomers are Jeff McIntosh and John Larson, who replaced Molly Leight.

            Over the last few weeks, these city government leaders have been listening to citizen comments and debating the merits of approving a Welcoming City resolution.  That document asks the City Council to reaffirm that “ours is a welcoming city for newcomers, immigrants and refugees….”  They have heard passionate pleas from citizens speaking from fear and citizens speaking from hope. At times these officials have sunk into petty politics and at others they have raised the specter of reprisals from higher levels of government. 

            When the Charter for Compassion was presented initially, people asked, “Who can be against compassion?”  Today, if someone were to ask, “Who can oppose being a Welcoming City?” the response would be less than rhetorical. We have allowed ourselves to become like lemmings marching to the sea. We don’t see beyond our blueness and our redness to recognize the importance of our underlying oneness, our humanity. 

            The Charter for Compassion, which was endorsed by City Council, says:

“The principle of compassion calls us to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put the well-being of others there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

“It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others - even our enemies - is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately.

“We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the center of communal life - to encourage a positive appreciation of diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings - even those regarded as enemies.

“We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, and ideological boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.”

By inviting us to look beyond our own narrow self-interest, approval of the Welcoming City resolution would demonstrate that we are both a city of welcome and a city of compassion. Regardless of actions of our local government, our traditions – whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, humanist or other -- give us a clarion call to welcome the stranger.

 

Building Understanding and Peace in Our Pluralistic Community

             Five years ago, 25 people representing 12 faith traditions came together in Winston-Salem and asked themselves a question:

            How can we build understanding and peace within a community that reflects the pluralism of the world?

            Their answer was to form an organization that would bring neighbors together – children, youth and adults – to learn about each other’s traditions and build relationships beyond the walls that divide us.

            That organization is Interfaith Winston-Salem.  This year we celebrate five years of achievements while entertaining the sobering thought that there are miles to go before we can rest.

            During the last five years we have sponsored more than 200 events and activities to build peace through understanding. More than 7,500 people have participated at no cost because of the generosity of our volunteers and our donors.

When the beloved community has suffered violence or threats of violence, we have stepped forward to offer support and bring healing.

Ø  A shotgun blast shatters the sign announcing a new temple for the Hindu Community.  We gather during a Hindu worship service on the site to demonstrate our concern and our support.

Ø  A disgruntled alumnus verbally attacks Imam Khalid Griggs and an anonymous individual places a bucket of urine at his door in the Chaplain’s Office at Wake Forest University.  We write letters to university leaders and meet with Imam Griggs to let him know we are with him.

Ø  The criminal justice system is failing our young people. We collaborate with Valerie Glass to organize Triad Restorative Justice, which will offer restorative principles in our schools and begin to reduce suspensions that often lead into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Ø  Venom spills from a meeting in Kernersville as one man cries, “Kill all the Muslims.”  We work with leaders of our three local mosques to open their doors to the community to invite questions and comments and demonstrate that the mosques have nothing to hide.    

When fear of the “other,” of those who don’t match someone’s idea of who belongs, we have set a place at the table for everyone.

Ø  The Winston-Salem Foundation works to build a strong community. The foundation presents its ECHO Award for building social capital to Interfaith Winston-Salem for offering programs that bring together people from different segments of the community.

Ø  After eight years in prison, a Muslim man returns to his community.  We invite him to share his journey at one of our monthly “Journeys” breakfast gatherings.

Ø  Two terrorists who claim to be Muslims explode bombs during the Boston Marathon.  We join our Muslim neighbors at their mosque for a shared meal to show them that the heinous act in Boston will not shatter our relationships.

Where there is ignorance, we work to bring knowledge and understanding.

Ø  Children are curious, eager to learn. Each autumn, we entertain more than 200 children with arts, crafts, music, dance and other activities that teach about other traditions at our Festival of Faith and Culture.

Ø  Some people say that religion is the primary source of wars and conflicts. As part of our Carlton D. Mitchell Interfaith Series, we invite Dr. Charles Kimball to trace the history of religious extremism.

Ø  Racism continues to be a blot on relations between white and black citizens. We invite Terrance Hawkins, a strong advocate of social justice, to join us at a monthly Conversations gathering and help us explore the causes of racism and how it infects the least suspecting of us.

As Interfaith Winston-Salem enters its second five years, we are building on our accomplishments and seeking new ways and new collaborations in forming a more peaceable community.  Community volunteer Karl Yena has helped us prepare a new strategic plan, and alumni of Leadership Winston-Salem will guide our implementation of the plan.

Ø  Working with educators and faith leaders, we have presented a proposal to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to introduce a World Religions curriculum into high schools that would improve the knowledge of other traditions.

Ø  With the leadership of students at local high schools, we are assisting in the formation of Interfaith Service Clubs that feature three core components of interfaith cooperation: respect for religious identity, mutually inspiring relationships and common action for common good.

Ø  We are providing a bridge between churches and the Muslim community to begin a series of gatherings that build relationships and understanding.

Ø  Reaching across several faith traditions, we have organized a Good Neighbor Team in coordination with the World Relief agency to help a refugee family resettle in Winston-Salem.

Much still needs to be done.  Many volunteers and supporters recognize that it’s a task that all of us must accept. We are dedicated to take the lead in meeting that challenge.  You can help us by making an online donation here.

Welcoming the Refugee

            Throughout 2017, Interfaith Winston-Salem programs will lift up the stories of refugees and the compassionate people who welcome them into their hearts and their community.
            Many local worship centers and interested individuals are working across dividing lines to create Good Neighbor Teams in collaboration with the refugee relief organization, World Relief, which has offices in High Point and Winston-Salem.
            Leaders of Interfaith Winston-Salem have formed a Good Neighbor Team that will receive a refugee family and assist with resettlement in Winston-Salem.  The team includes members from Green Street Church, Temple Emanuel, Ardmore United Methodist Church, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Annoor Islamic Center, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, The Community Mosque, Winston-Salem Friends, Messiah Moravian Church and others.
            Our efforts have good models to follow in the collaborative work currently being demonstrated by Temple Emanuel, Knollwood Baptist Church and the Annoor Islamic Center.  Ardmore Baptist and Centenary United Methodist are among other worship centers supporting resettlement efforts.
            Last year, Interfaith Winston-Salem hosted programs by Guilford College on the “Every Campus a Refuge” program, which since has been adopted by Wake Forest University.  In addition, volunteers from Knollwood Baptist and Temple Emanuel shared their experience of working with refugees during a “Journeys” breakfast presentation, and refugees participated in the annual Children’s Festival of Faith and Culture.
            In addition to the interfaith Good Neighbor team, programs with refugee influences during 2017 will include:

  • At the Journeys breakfast program on May 7, Kel Billings will share his journey working with immigrants and refugees while living in the Middle East.

  • On October 21, Stephan Bauman, the former president and chief executive officer of World Relief, will deliver the keynote address at the annual Carlton Mitchell Interfaith Series. The full program, which is still under development, will recognize refugee families who now call Winston-Salem home. Knollwood Baptist Church, which will host the event, is co-sponsor.

  • In November, children of refugee families will again be invited to join children from throughout the area in a day of arts, crafts, music, dance, food and other activities to build understanding of multiple faith and cultural traditions.

  • On November 14, the Interfaith Winston-Salem Book Club will read and discuss “Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis,” written by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens and Dr. Issam Smeir.

Contact interfaithws@gmail.com if you’re interested in any of these programs.

 

Interfaith Service Clubs Debut at Reynolds High School

(The opinions in this article are opinions of the writer and may -- or may not -- represent the views of Interfaith Winston-Salem. It is written by Jerry McLeese, founder and board member of Interfaith Winston Salem.)

 

Congratulations to the clutch of students at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem for forming the area’s first interfaith service club in our high schools.

 

Isaac Cooper, a sophomore who is a member of Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem, provided the organizing energy for the club with assistance from faculty members Fakhria Luna, who teaches World History; and Dr. AmyBith Gardner Harlee, who teaches piano.  Cooper will serve as club president until a slate of officers is installed in the fall.

 

Joining Cooper at the initial meeting of the club in January were Kate Carpenter, freshman, who is Protestant; David Hawes, sophomore who is Protestant; Noru Hudu, a sophomore who is Muslim; and Maddie Morris, freshman who is Catholic.  Mrs. Luna, who serves as sponsor, is Muslim, and Dr. Harlee is Protestant.

 

The charter members of the club have begun to identify other classmates who will broaden the religious, racial and ethnic diversity of the group even further.  The group is open to everyone, including those who follow no particular religion or faith tradition.  The club plans to gather every other week.

 

The Interfaith Youth Core, which has headquarters in Chicago, was the inspiration for creation of the club at Reynolds.  The Interfaith Youth Core employs a successful model on more than 200 college and university campuses that features three core components of interfaith cooperation: respect for religious identity, mutually inspiring relationships and common action for common good.

 

High schools in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County reflect the area’s religious, ethnic and cultural diversity.  The degree to which these students learn to understand and respect each other will influence the community’s ability to embrace growing pluralism in the future.  The action at Reynolds can be a model for students in other local high schools.

 

 

10th Annual Interfaith Tour April 30, 2017

10th Annual Interfaith Tour April 30

 

Winston-Salem’s interfaith tour will observe its 10th anniversary in April with visits to Annoor Islamic Center, the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) meeting house and Temple Emanuel Sunday afternoon, April 30.
 
The 2017 visit to the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) meeting house marks the first time the tour has included that faith tradition, according to Tracy Widener, a member of the board of Interfaith Winston-Salem who is coordinating this year’s tour.
 
“We feel that it is important to reach out and embrace all faith traditions represented in our community,” Widener said. “It has never been more important for us to get to know our neighbors. The tour provides that opportunity. We hope to see church confirmation classes, middle school social studies classes, Sunday School classes, college religion classes and other groups of youth and adults.”
 
The tour will conclude at Temple Emanuel with a free pizza party and a time for guests to mingle with people of various faith traditions.
 
Widener said that participants are encouraged to carpool or use vans or buses, to conserve gas, find parking more easily and to move more quickly from site to site. You can register yourself or your group of up to 25 people on our eventbrite page.
 
Interfaith Winston-Salem assumed responsibility for the tour from the city’s Human Relations Commission in 2013 and has worked to broaden its reach over the last five years.  Last year’s tour was the most successful in history, attracting more than 200 participants to stops at The Community Mosque, St. Phillips Moravian Church and Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church.
 
For additional information contact Widener at tracy3851@yahoo.com.
 

10th Annual Interfaith Tour April 30, 2017

10th Annual Interfaith Tour April 30

 

Winston-Salem’s interfaith tour will observe its 10th anniversary in April with visits to Annoor Islamic Center, the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) meeting house and Temple Emanuel Sunday afternoon, April 30.
 
The 2017 visit to the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) meeting house marks the first time the tour has included that faith tradition, according to Tracy Widener, a member of the board of Interfaith Winston-Salem who is coordinating this year’s tour.
 
“We feel that it is important to reach out and embrace all faith traditions represented in our community,” Widener said. “It has never been more important for us to get to know our neighbors. The tour provides that opportunity. We hope to see church confirmation classes, middle school social studies classes, Sunday School classes, college religion classes and other groups of youth and adults.”
 
The tour will conclude at Temple Emanuel with a free pizza party and a time for guests to mingle with people of various faith traditions.
 
Widener said that participants are encouraged to carpool or use vans or buses, to conserve gas, find parking more easily and to move more quickly from site to site. You can register yourself or your group of up to 25 people on our eventbrite page.
 
Interfaith Winston-Salem assumed responsibility for the tour from the city’s Human Relations Commission in 2013 and has worked to broaden its reach over the last five years.  Last year’s tour was the most successful in history, attracting more than 200 participants to stops at The Community Mosque, St. Phillips Moravian Church and Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church.
 
For additional information contact Widener at tracy3851@yahoo.com.
 

New Year Brings New Board Members to Interfaith Winston Salem

In 2017 Interfaith Winston Salem will kick off the New Year with some new additions to our board of guidance. In 2016 we bid farewell to Darlene May and Iman Khalid Griggs after each successfully completed two terms on the board. We thank them for their service and wish them luck in future endeavors.  Beginning in 2017, five new members of the Interfaith Winston-Salem Board of Guidance will begin their first term after being elected during the December 2016 Board of Guidance meeting. Each will begin an initial two-year term on the board. Interfaith Winston Salem officially welcomes the following new board members:

Abby Catoe is a Master’s student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Originally from Winston Salem, she currently resides in East Bend where she owns and runs a landscaping business. Abby identifies as Christian.


Jeremy Moseley holds a Master's in Public Health. From Kinston, NC, he currently resides in Durham and identifies as Christianity through AME Zion. He is a Health Care Administrator at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

 

 Rev. Michele Sevacko finds her spiritual home in New Thought/Metaphysics. She considers herself a child of the universe as she has lived in many places throughout her life. Rev. Sevacko holds a Master of Metaphysical Sciences from the University of Metaphysics and a Doctor of Philosophy specializing in Pastoral Counseling from the University of Sedona. She also completed a certificate program in World Religions Through Their Scriptures via Harvard X as well as Interfaith & Intercultural Understanding Level i & ii at Association for Global New Thought & Common Ground.

 

Nelly van Doorn-Harder was born and raised in the Netherlands where she earned her PhD on the topic of women in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. Before moving to the United States, she was director of a refugee program in Cairo, Egypt, and taught Islamic Studies at universities in the Netherlands (Leiden) and Indonesia (Yogyakarta).

Rev. Byron Williams is a columnist, author, and the former pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Berkeley, CA. He is now President and CEO of the Kairos Moment a progressive theological think-tank in Winston-Salem. He is also host of the NPR-affiliated broadcast The Public Morality. Williams is the author of the bestselling “1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility,” which won the 2014 International Book Award for U.S. History. His previous book, “Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections on the Iraq War,” is a series of essays. In 2010 and 2011, Williams' work was nationally recognized by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which nominated him for “Columnist of the Year.” Williams has spoken across the country and appeared on numerous television and radio

Tracy Widener is a native of Winston-Salem, NC now residing in Advance, NC. She has no religious affiliation or belief system. Tracy has 13 years of experience volunteering in the Forsyth County School District and Davie County School District. Her interest in faith traditions has led her to Interfaith Winston-Salem. Believing that the community will benefit greatly from the Interfaith W-S mission. Tracy volunteers her time helping Interfaith Winston Salem accomplish that mission.