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The Interfaith Movement in the St. Louis Area

by Interfaith Partnerships/Faith Beyond Walls

This summer (2009) was a hot, exciting and challenging summer for the Interfaith Partnership/ Faith Beyond Walls St. Louis Interfaith Community Exploitations (SLICE) program. Interfaith Partnership/ Faith Beyond Walls works with congregations and faith communities to promote peace, understanding and respect among people of all faiths and within the greater Saint Louis metro area. SLICE is a four week summer service program where youth of various faith groups come together to participate in community improvement projects, in local underserved communities, focused interfaith dialogue and a Community Action Agency Poverty Simulation. Volunteers start by participating in a Poverty Simulation, which helps give the volunteers context in which they will be working in for the week. They talk with community residents and learn why, the work they do is so important for the entire community.

We had the most diversity of faith groups ever during this year’s SLICE program. We had volunteers who represented the following faith groups; Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Hindu, Jewish, Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ and Sikh. Along with the amazing religious diversity, we also had volunteers from different cities and states, such as; Chanute, KS, Kansas City, MO, Knoxville, TN and Conrad, IA. These volunteers came to St. Louis to help improve our neighborhoods, but also to learn from one another through interfaith dialogue and service.

These volunteers put their faith into action in alley-ways with the Alderman, beautified parks with the Mayor, and created a safe space for children to enjoy outside activities. Most volunteers were first time Interfaith Partnership/ Faith Beyond Walls participants and had the opportunity to do something that has never been offered to them before. They were able to take tours of different houses of worship including, the Hindu Temple, a Mosque, a Jewish Synagogue and a Latter-day Saint Chapel. Volunteers were taken on tours, some led by their peers and other by the religious leaders. To many, this was their first exposure to another faith, not to mention a different house of worship other than their own, all brought together by community service.

Beth Damsgaard-Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, which organizes SLICE, said that said the focus this summer on volunteer work was successful in part because of the support of United We Serve. Just before SLICE’s first week, President Barack Obama announced his administration's United We Serve initiative — "a call to action for all Americans to volunteer this summer and be part of building a new foundation for America, one community at a time."

Damsgaard-Rodriguez shared, "I think (interfaith service) has always been happening, but as an undercurrent…but the spotlight is on now because President Obama is lifting it up."

This summer was hot, but students worked hard and never complained. They worked hard to improve the local underserved communities. Volunteers committed to learning from one another through interfaith dialogue. SLICE Volunteers started as strangers, but through interfaith service, formed bonds that will last a lifetime.

For more information about the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis please visit: http://www.interfaithpartnership.org

For more information about Faith Beyond Walls, please visit: http://www.faithbeyondwalls.org

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