Twenty five local high-school students and leaders met Saturday at Asbury United Methodist Church to learn about different faiths in a program called Interfaith Works. The idea is to encourage young people to have open discussions, ask questions and learn from each other about the different religious backgrounds in the room.
Prerna Abbi was the guest speaker. She is a humanist with Hindu roots and is particularly passionate about infusing interfaith plurality into community service.
Abbi is part of the Interfaith Youth Core, a group of young people from all faiths and traditions that promotes the common good of all. She led the youth in discussions and community building activities that focused on interfaith dialogue and service. During one portion of the morning, youth read sacred texts from various religious traditions and talked about how the value of service was present in all of them.
Adam Walker Cleaveland, the minister for youth and young adults at , hosted the free daylong program for Tri-Valley high-school students along with several local religious leaders.
Rabbi Rick Winer from Congregation Beth Emek said, "There's always an opportunity to bring together young people from different backgrounds and give back to the community. We never have any trouble filling these events."
After lunch, the group visited to help in its teaching garden.
Debbie Anderson, a kindergarten teacher at the school, said, "The garden was started 20 years ago to teach the children about growing vegetables. Each year, we end up with so many tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables that we give them to the parents and that helps feed the local community."
She said the pre-K children plant flowers such as gladiolas and poppies. I saw that one of the beds had lots of strawberry plants, too.
With the recent rains, the garden was overgrown with weeds and needed clearing out. The youth and leaders from the Interfaith Works workshop had made a lot of progress in clearing it all out when I got there.
"It's just wonderful to have so much help today to get our garden in shape," Anderson said.
All the youth were working hard, but it was clear that they were having a good time, too. I heard lots of chatter, bantering back and forth and laughter as they teamed up to get the beds ready for planting.
Winer's wife, Rabbi Laura, tweeted, "It's amazing what 23 teens, 3 youth pastors, 2 rabbis, 2 elementary school teachers can do to help a small school garden."