URBANA — Religion, politics and culture can all create divisions between people, especially in difficult times.
The Interfaith Alliance of Champaign County aims to close those gaps.
Pastor Michael Crosby of the First Mennonite Church, current chair of IACC, said that the conflict in Israel and Palestine has been on his mind as he learns how many people in our local community are directly impacted by those events.
“We have a lot of strong friendships and relationships in the Interfaith Alliance. Our work is in part to know each other and take care of each other,” Crosby said.
He said that a lot of IACC’s response to the news has been to simply check in with each other and offer individual support.
Rabbi Alan Cook of the Sinai Temple said that while a small local organization will never have an effect on events on the other side of the world, it can still spark change.
“The gathering of groups like the Interfaith Alliance allows us to build bridges of respect and understanding,” Cook said. “We begin to build hope for the future, for harmony and understanding.”
For IACC, that understanding begins with acknowledging and embracing diversity, especially when it comes to faith and opinions.
“We acknowledge that we don’t all agree on what would make peace, but we acknowledge that we all want peace,” Crosby said.
Along with rebuilding the organization after the pandemic, one of the things IACC is focusing on right now is getting more young people involved.
Multiple local faith communities are already active within the alliance, but Cook said that they wanted to introduce younger people to look toward the future.
“They hold the key to turning around some of the negativity in our community and our nation,” Cook said. “We want to capture students at a younger age and teach them to be appreciative and loving to people who may not look like them.”
That’s one of the reasons IACC has planned a youth art competition to coincide with its annual Grateful Gathering program.
Grateful Gathering is not considered a Thanksgiving event, though it is scheduled in November.
Crosby said that the idea was to recognize the idea of thankfulness that is present in many religions.
“It started with a vision for gathering folks across all different faith backgrounds to show gratitude for things in our community,” Crosby said. “I think all of our religious traditions have practices of this really rich relationship to gratitude.”
This is the first time the event will be held at the Spurlock Museum and the first time an art competition will be held.
“Gratitude submissions” will be accepted from middle and high school students in Champaign County, but the submissions themselves can be nearly anything.
There are four categories: essays, poetry, music/dance and visual arts.
Essays and poetry are limited to 500 words and music and dance are limited to ten minutes. Visual arts must include written descriptions.
Strong submissions will include the student’s personal experiences with gratitude and how it relates to their own spiritual, philosophical or religious beliefs.
The deadline for the art competition, previously Sunday, has been extended to Oct. 31 to allow for more submissions.
The Grateful Gathering program is scheduled for Nov. 19.
“We’re excited,” Crosby said. “This is what we can learn from, seeing where their energy and creativity takes them.”