Compassion, empathy and understanding are traits people almost universally yearn for, and aspire to and an upcoming event in Youngsville aims to foster these traits across varying religious denominations.
People of the Book.
Children of Abraham.
Postulant Timothy Dyer at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church
Whichever name is used, they share a common root in the belief that a single true God revealed himself to a prophet named Abraham.
Christians, Muslims, Jews and even followers of Baha'i claim Abraham as a spiritual, and in most cases literal, patriarch told by their God that his descendants would spread across the world. In fact, the Hebrew name Abraham can be translated as "father of multitudes."
Despite this, centuries of persecution, warfare and strife have been rationalized by the differences in other beliefs these groups hold.
A parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Youngsville and postulant for holy orders, Timothy Dyer hopes he can help enlighten the public on the similarities and differences of those beliefs, confront some of the stereotypes about their followers and eliminate some prejudices in the process.
Dyer said he first started thinking about organizing an interfaith event nearly a year ago while examining the words of his church's baptismal covenant. One line in the covenant, which includes a number of vows to be made by those seeking to be baptised, "really struck home," Dyer said: "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"
After much thought and much prayer, Dyer said he decided to better live up to this vow by organizing The Children of Abraham Project.
Dyer says the project is an attempt to live up to his vow by "responding to injustices that I see in our society, but, more importantly, in our own communities."
On Oct. 27, from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the St. Francis of Assisi Church in Youngsville, the project will host a lecture and question and answer session by Director of Public Relations for the Jamestown Islamic Society, Sam Qadri. Qadri is also a teacher at the high school and college levels.
The event followed a series of discussion and planning meetings. Dyer first went to his priest, Fr. Matt MacDougall to discuss his desire to address the issue. Dyer then arranged for a meeting between MacDougall, Qadri and himself to focus on ways they could work together to address the injustices he saw. The group invited Fr. Matthew Scott of Trinity Memorial Church in Warren to meet with them and discuss the matter. They ultimately settled on the Oct. 27 event.
"As ideas were exposed and plans were formulated," Dyer recalled. "It was clear that each of us felt that this interfaith project would be of great benefit to our community."
"Like Tim and Mr. Qadri, I believe Muslims and Christians have more in common than most people realize and hope that, as we come to realize these similarities, we might see one another as fellow human beings and, in fact, neighbors sharing common interests, hopes, goals and dreams."
Dyer said he hopes to continue and expand The Children of Abraham Project after the initial event.
"Eventually I hope to develop this into a true reflection of the children of Abraham by inviting the Jewish community to participate, with my ultimate goal being the hope of fostering new and deeper friendships with our Muslim and Jewish neighbors," Dyer said. "There are several ideas in the works for future events, but finding peace among and within our communities cannot be successful without each of us working together to defeat hatred, injustice and the stereotypical images that permeate our communities."
He said one idea he hopes to see become a reality is to bring young people of these various faiths together.
"This would be a day of play and for them to get know one another so they could see that they are no different from each other," according to Dyer.
"Too many people are under-educated in regard to those of the muslim faith," MacDougall said. "I don't see this as an event for those who have no concern, fear or skepticism... Rather, it's an opportunity for those of us who do."
"In offering this event to our community, our hope is to bring change and reconciliation to the world; one heart, one mind at a time, " Dyer said. "Racism, prejudice and violence are all to common, even in America. However, if through this effort, a tragedy like what happened this summer at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin can be avoided in our communities, then this endeavor will be a success."
MacDougall noted he hopes the event will help to dispel some commonly held misconceptions about followers of Islam in America.
"More than anything I'm hoping to create a more informed community," MacDougall said. "I've had the privilege of being invited to observe a Muslim prayer service on two separate occasions; once in college... and once in seminary... After my visit during college, my classmates and I were invited to meet with the Imam. He was not cold, nor did he or any member of his community appear to mirror the persona of those being portrayed in the news; that there are enough Muslim berserkers out there seeking to kill as many Americans as possible, that American citizens should live in fear and skepticism."
Another misconception I hope to dispel, through this event or through longer-term efforts, is an idea that people of the Muslim faith tradition living in our country are any less American than anyone else... Our weakest link, in many cases, seems to be a fear and/or an unwillingness to engage that which we don't understand, ultimately, making us weaker as individuals."
A potluck dinner will follow the lecture and question and answer session on Oct. 27. The dinner will feature halal food prepared by members of the Jamestown Islamic Society and Dyer asks those who attend to bring a dish for the dinner.
Due to limited space, those who want to attend the event should contact Dyer to RSVP. He also invites people with questions about the event to contact him. Dyer can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 814-779-0869.