Bringing together the religious descendents of Abraham is a great way to build respect, friendship and understanding, local religious leaders say, as they finalize plans for the 10th annual Celebration of Abraham on Sunday.
“I loved the concept behind the Celebration of Abraham the moment I first learned about the initiative after arriving in Davis,” says Bishop Travis Lybbert, a UC Davis professor and lay clergy leader of a Davis congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lybbert, who will be a member of the clergy panel at Sunday’s event, has a personal connection to fostering bonds of understanding among different religions.
“As a Christian, I occasionally encounter people who misunderstand or misrepresent my beliefs — and seem uninterested in hearing first-hand about what I believe,” he says. “Many of my Muslim friends have related similar experiences. The spirit of sharing and mutual respect that bring this group together are so welcome and so enriching.”
Check it out
What: 10th annual Celebration of Abraham
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Fellowship Hall at Davis Community Church, 421 D St.
The theme of the 2013 celebration is “Interfaith Models of Community.” At the event, people will hear from individuals who are modeling interfaith community, focusing specifically on the Multifaith Living Community at C.A. House, which houses 38 young people from various religions, including Jewish, Sikh, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist, along with some who belong to no particular religion but are spiritually oriented.
“Davis has a unique resource for interfaith community,” said Helen Roland, a founding organizer of the Celebration of Abraham and a member of the United Methodist Church. “It is a program unique in the country. No other school has a true interfaith living community and we hope the students can give us their insights into how to build an interfaith community wherever we are.”
The Rev. Kristin Stoneking, director and campus minister for the Cal Aggie Christian Association, brought the idea of the C.A. House student residence to the board in 2000, but her vision became much more specific after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Many people were looking for constructive ways to respond and we wanted to build an intentional multifaith community,” Stoneking explained, adding that she found a commonality in the shared goals of Celebration of Abraham. “There aren’t many set models and much theory about the next level of interfaith engagement, so it is wonderful that the Celebration of Abraham is looking — 10 years after it started — at ‘What do we do now that we have built strong relationships? How do we activate these relationships to respond to bias and violence in a positive and effective way?’ ”
The public is invited to the free interfaith event, which typically draws as many as 300 people of all spiritual paths from throughout Yolo County, Sacramento and the region. The 10th annual Celebration of Abraham will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Fellowship Hall at Davis Community Church, 421 D St.
With the 10th anniversary gathering, Celebration of Abraham organizers are coming full circle to the ideals that brought them together in the wake of the horrors of the 9/11 to promote understanding and compassion among Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“Rather than letting suspiciousness and fear of people in our own community push us further apart, we decided to find bonds which could bring us together. It was a radical notion that the members of three Abrahamic faiths could find ways to get along,” said Michael Hirsch, a member of Congregation Bet Haverim, who will introduce the program this year.
“At this year’s event, we are looking at the fresh ways in which the C.A. House Multifaith Living Community participants are working together, hoping the students will be able to provide ideas to community elders who have the ability to implement change consistent with the ‘radical’ ideas that this organization was founded on a decade ago.”
Since the beginning of the Celebration of Abraham, the organizing committee has taken topics from the current needs, beginning with topics directly connected to the three traditions of Abraham and basic religious beliefs, then moving on to broader topics such as “Compassion,” “The Stranger in Our Midst,” “Living Between Fear and Trust,” “Forgiveness” and “Moving Beyond Victimhood.”
Last year’s focus was on hope sparking action. Building on the hope for action, table displays this year will highlight some of the interfaith justice work being done in Yolo County.
As is tradition, the program will include panel discussions and music, along with intimate discussions among the participants at each table. Questions based on the theme are posed to each table group, with people sharing their experiences and beliefs as they wish. The afternoon completes with a ritual of washing each other’s hands at each individual table and breaking a loaf of bread together as symbols of respect and connection.
Each year at Celebration of Abraham, donations are invited for a charitable organization. This year’s funds will go to the American Red Cross, specifically to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The Celebration of Abraham is sponsored by several local spiritual organizations, including American Muslim Voice, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Woodland, Congregation Bet Haverim/Jewish Fellowship of Davis, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Council on Islamic Relations, Davis Community Church, Davis Friends (Quaker) Meeting, Davis Lutheran Church, Davis United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church of Incarnation, Muslim Mosque of Woodland, St. James Catholic Church, St. John’s United Church of Christ, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church of Davis, St. Mary’s Orthodox Coptic Church, SALAM Center of Sacramento, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Woodland Presbyterian Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis and Woodland United Methodist Church.