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‘As much as you teach others, you learn’

Sari Kosdon, Dylan Stanton, Mariam Aejaz, seated on the couch, and Jassimran Bainiwal take part in a discussion led by facilitator Máhsea Evans, right. Said Aejaz of the decision to be part of C.A. House’s Multifaith Living Community, “They equally valued every single faith, or even if you didn’t have a faith — if you were atheist or agnostic. That really stood out.” Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | November 25, 2012 | Leave Comment

On one level, the C.A. House’s Multifaith Living Community is like most other student housing units. There are six townhouses and a main house with a kitchen and a living room.

But, on a deeper level, it’s a unique social experiment: 38 students from a variety of faiths — including Christianity, Sikhism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Jainism — all living together in one community.

The Multifaith Living Community at 433 Russell Blvd. in Davis, is operated by the Cal Aggie Christian Association, commonly known as C.A. House.

“Our understanding of what a Christian organization should be is justice-seeking, generosity and hospitality, bridge-building,” said Kristin Stoneking, the director and campus minister of C.A. House. “We’re also engaging in assisting and supporting all students in integrity and (being) people of faith, no matter what that faith is.”

The Multifaith Living Community centers on putting into action the principles of community, faith, social justice and simplicity of lifestyle, emphasizing acceptance and tolerance of every faith, as well as sexual orientation and class.

Stoneking describes the purpose of the Multifaith Living Community as “to primarily address the issues that are causing us to not have peace and justice in the world and our community.”

“One of those issues right now is religious misunderstanding. In part, the interfaith living center is to help students understand other faiths,” Stoneking said.

Mariam Aejaz, a Muslim junior double-majoring in international relations and community and regional development, moved into the community at the beginning of this school year.

When Aejaz was considering applying to the Multifaith Living Community, she was particularly drawn to the community’s stated goal of interfaith tolerance and mutual understanding.

“They equally valued every single faith, or even if you didn’t have a faith — if you were atheist or agnostic. That really stood out,” Aejaz said. “At the Multifaith Living Community, you get really get to know people first. After you get to know them, it’s natural to ask ‘Why do you have that on your head?’ or ‘What kinds of prayers do you do every day?’ It’s a more holistic kind of interfaith.”

David Kielsemeier, a fourth-year student studying Spanish and managerial economics who identifies as culturally Jewish, was initially worried that students would stick in cliques with those of their own faith.

“The biggest challenge is just breaking down those barriers. It hasn’t been difficult,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about other religions. I had no idea that Sikhism even existed beforehand, and I didn’t really have any Muslim friends.

“In the end, it’s just nice to realize we’re really all just people, whether of different faiths or not.”

Angad Singh, a Sikh resident and fourth-year student majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior, wondered if most of the students would be Christian.

“It turned out to be a variety of religions,” Singh said. “We have so many faiths. It’s awesome.”

An average week at the Multifaith Living Community begins on Monday morning with Buddhist meditation, which is offered every weekday morning. On Monday night, there is a Christian meal and service. The entire community gathers on Wednesday night to share a meal and participate in a special program, such as a Muslim Eid celebration or Jewish seder, or discussion on a topic affecting multiple religions, such as genocide.

In addition to regular retreats and service projects, each student is also part of a small multifaith group that meets once a week.

The many events and gatherings are intended to reinforce a strong sense of community, as well as provide a safe environment for students to discuss matters of faith.

“Small group is a place to really be mentored, to bring big questions like ‘Who am I?,’ ‘What is my purpose?,’ ‘What does it mean to be good?’ ” Stoneking said. “You’re not always exposing every part of your psyche in those large-group settings, so small group is a safe place.”

The close-knit community and small groups also encourage students to discuss other topics affecting their lives.

“Because we go into this community knowing we’re going to talk about religion, so many other barriers are broken down. We talk about gender, we talk about family, we talk about politics,” said Rosemary Costello, a Catholic fourth-year student majoring in sociology. “Because we live together, it makes those discussions easier.”

Costello believes that the discussions she’s had with other students at C.A. House have both challenged and strengthened her faith by allowing her to express her beliefs and doubts, as well as to listen to those of others.

“There are environments on campus or in my Catholic community where I’m not sure if I should say something,” she said. “But here, I know I can say something and people will either agree or disagree, and I’ll either change some aspect of what I was thinking, or be stronger in it.

“I’ve learned to stand up for what I believe.”

For Singh, the questions from other residents have led him to learn more about his own faith.

“Your parents teach you it, and you practice it, and you don’t question it. Others have questions; you have to have a reason,” Singh said. “It’s been challenging, but super-rewarding at the same time, (by) creating a strong foundation for your faith. As much as you teach others, you learn.”

Singh also attributes his personal appreciation of the Multifaith Living Community’s to the spiritual atmosphere of openness and acceptance.

“I feel everyone’s goal is to be loved and accepted. The first day I walked in, I was respected and loved,” Singh said. “To have a place where you can come home, it’s so cool — where you don’t have to ask, ‘Is someone going to harass me, or ask me why I wear a turban?’ I haven’t been to a lot of places where you have that much love and respect at ground zero.”

— Reach Anna Sturla at asturla@davisenterprise.net

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