President’s Interfaith Challenge: Year Two

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President’s Interfaith Challenge: Year Two

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From left, Leah Sweetman; Ken Bedell; Brenda Girton-Mitchell; Bryan Sokol, director of the CSCE; and Sara Rahim, junior and member of Interfaith Alliance. Courtesy of US Department of Education

Last Wednesday, Saint Louis University students were invited to speak about their experiences with The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge as a whole for its first year, at Harris-Stowe State University, as part of the launch for year two. The U.S. Department of Education chose SLU, along with several other institutions of higher education, from the St. Louis area, to be part of the launch.

The challenge, known as “Interfaith Challenge” for short, is led by the White House and supported by the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

President Barack Obama introduced the Interfaith Challenge in March of 2011. It asked institutions of higher education nationwide to commit to a year of “interfaith service” programming. Campuses were encouraged to tackle community challenges while engaging the tradition of those who were serving.

Sara Rahim, a junior spearheading this initiative, along with InterFaith Alliance, said that the President’s Challenge provided something that SLU had been lacking from years before.

“Although we had a student group on campus for interfaith programming, there was always a certain degree of complacency within our campus culture,” said Rahim. “The President’s Challenge allowed our campus to centralize our interfaith efforts and create an inclusive sense of community that we were unable to achieve years before.”

“We also networked with schools that were past participants and schools that were just signing on, but the event was primarily to recognize our efforts and Kick Off year two,” said Rahim.

The Center for Service and Community and Engagement (CSCE) has assisted in organizing and keeping track of the challenge on campus this past year. It actually approached Rahim to lead the challenge on campus.

“The CSCE is here to support and help coordinate these efforts, and especially to build
unity through service,”  the director, Bryan Sokol, Ph.D said.

“Multiple seed grants were requested through the center to fund new opportunities,” said Sokol. “In the first year of the challenge, SLU sponsored nearly 50 interfaith events and activities on campus, with more than 7,000 participants. This made SLU one of the biggest and most active campuses in the region to participate.”

Sean Worley, the Student Government Association Vice President of Diversity and Social Justice, said about the challenge: “As a Saint Louis University student, being part of an institution focused on service and mutual respect, I thought it was appropriate to have here. I am exteremly excited for the second year of the challenge.”

Officials from the Department of Education were present at the launch, along with faculty and administration from schools in the St. Louis Area, including University of Missouri St. Louis, Fontbonne and smaller schools

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also present there, recognized Saint Louis University’s efforts to expand interfaith programming on campus this past year.

Examples of major events held for this challenge included Muslim Student Association Fast-A-Thon, which will be held again this year on Nov. 19, this event saw over 600 students pledge to a day of fasting. The event culminated in an informative and fun dinner in which people broke their fast while engaging in interfaith dialogue.

Another was Interfaith Prayer and Worship Service. The culminating event to SLU’s Challenge, this featured student and adult representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, Bahai, Jain, Sikh, Hindu, Coptic and Christian faiths. There was a student processional followed by songs, scripture and verses that shared the call to social justice from the various traditions. An international dinner followed the service, in which further participants were given the chance to reflect on the experience. Almost 200 people were in attendance.

“We are hoping to make the InterFaith Prayer Service a signature event to kick off Atlas Week every year,” Rahim said.

For questions and more information, please contact: [email protected]

Video: http://youtu.be/i16Z7aipMA8