One of my fall responsibilities is getting our confirmation classes up and running. Confirmation, for many Lutheran Christians, is an intensive time of religious education for 7th and 8th graders leading to an affirmation of their baptism in their 9th grade year. Picture a small group of adolescents sitting around a table on a Wednesday night discussing the Bible with their pastor.
As a Christian educator, I’ve been asking myself: how can I incorporate interreligious dialogue and engagement into this formative time in young people’s lives? Am I preparing these children and youth to articulate their faith identity in a pluralistic world? Am I modeling interreligious engagement in my life?
In my experience, the children and youth in my congregations are often ahead of their elders in engaging questions of religious difference. Junior high students have tended to be very curious about other religions and what Christians might think about them. Many youth have family members or friends who don’t believe in God or belong to a different faith. It’s no longer an option (if it ever was) to teach my faith without acknowledging or engaging different worldviews. The youth I work with are living in a religiously pluralistic world whether I address it well, poorly, or not at all.
More than trying to learn about a different religion in the abstract, I wonder how our church’s education programs can encourage relationships of trust and dialogue with concrete people and living communities of faith.
Last February, I worked with an ecumenical group of churches called TRUST to offer more interfaith engagement for our youth. We took a small group of youth from five churches to an Interfaith Bridge Building Day at Augsburg College and Trinity Lutheran Congregation in Minneapolis, MN. Augsburg and Trinity are located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, which has a large Muslim community and is sometimes called “Little Mogadishu” because it has the largest Somali population outside of Somalia. Trinity and some of the local mosques have developed relationships, especially after a fire at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque this past January. Augsburg encourages interreligious engagement through their Interfaith Scholar Program. It was amazing to watch the TRUST youth group engage in the activities and neighborhood tour of the day, and it gave me confidence that this age group can engage deeply in interreligious dialogue.
During one activity, two of Augsburg’s Interfaith Scholars, Shugri Aden and Asha Saleh, led us in a discussion of common assumptions about Christianity and Islam. We also had to name something we liked about our own faith. Ahsa and Shugri, both young Muslim women, taught us about many of the unfair assumptions they face living in the Twin Cities and about the beauty of their faith. I heard youth articulating their faith in new ways, asking honest questions, and listening carefully. I thought we left the day with greater understanding of our own faith, Islam, and of how to form community in our diverse world. I left wondering how to do this kind of engagement more often and how to make it more central to our faith formation ministries, like confirmation.
Jeremy Myers, Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Augsburg, argues colleges and seminaries could do more to equip church youth leaders to facilitate interfaith engagement as an important part of their faith formation ministry. Myers studied 10 Christian congregations involved in interfaith engagement in Philadelphia and St. Paul in order to start developing a necessary theological framework, knowledge base, and skill set for youth ministers. Notably, the one essential skill Myers identified in his research was “the ability to partner with other religious groups.” This one skill enabled many of the other best practices Myers saw in these 10 congregations, such as: formal and informal dialogue, service projects, facilitating relationships between youth, encouraging student leadership, education about other faiths, and site visits to places of worship.
This kind of engagement is only possible if leaders have the relationships and ability to partner with other religious groups. Programs like Augsburg’s Interfaith Bridge Building Days, Interfaith Youth Core, and online communities like State of Formation could be some of our best resources for building these kinds of partnerships and for educating our youth.
I’m curious what other State of Formation contributors and readers have been doing in their context to facilitate interreligious dialogue and relationships for their children and youth. How might we partner to teach the children and youth in our communities?
 Jeremy Myers, “Teaching Interfaith Engagement as Faith Formation: Towards a Necessary Framework, Knowledge Base, and Skill Set,” The Journal of Youth Ministry 11:1 (Fall 2012), 65-88.
 Ibid., 83.
 Ibid., 76.
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