This year, nine Maryville College students and chaplain Rev. Dr. Anne McKee spent the last three days of winter break at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, N.C., in order to attend the Montreat College Conference.
The conference happens annually and is designed specifically for college students, though not exclusively for college students in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The range of people is wide: there are groups much like Maryville who come with their chaplain or campus minister, students who come as individuals and groups of students who come with their home congregation.
This year, the theme of the conference was At the Well. The main focus was how we, as college students, can participate in interfaith dialogue in an appropriate, productive way.
We heard from two former members of the Interfaith Youth Core, a program started by Eboo Patel in Chicago as a way of achieving interfaith leadership and cooperation between students, who come from different backgrounds and experiences, but who both share a passion for interfaith dialogue.
We also heard from Adrian Bird, a professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, N.C. The three keynoters hit on a wide range of subjects, but what stood out the most was the need for interfaith dialogue in our communities.
What exactly is interfaith dialogue? Interfaith dialogue is not a means of shoving your personal theology down the throats of others to try and convert others.
Rather, it is an opportunity to listen to those who are different than you, who believe different things, who perform different rituals, who may interpret God in a different way than you, who may think Jesus is just a pretty cool guy who lived a long time ago or who may think that Jesus doesn’t matter in the slightest.
In order for interfaith dialogue to work, you must go in with a clear understanding of what is expected: to listen, not to hear.
Listen to the meaning behind the words of others, to the hurt that so often comes from being told again and again that a belief set is wrong. Simply listen. What better way to learn about what it is that you believe than by describing it to others so that it can make sense to them? Not only is interfaith dialogue an opportunity to deepen your own faith, but also to stretch your mind and learn something new.
Coming back from Montreat, I found myself looking around at our campus to see where we are doing interfaith dialogue. Maybe I’m missing something, but I do not see it happening anywhere. Why are we, both Christians and those who are not, not taking the time to talk to our fellow students about their beliefs, beliefs that may be different than our own?
It seems to me that MC is a place where we should be stretching our minds, learning new things, and embracing those who are different than us.
Let’s take the chance. It is time for us to take the initiative to learn from those that we may be different than. It’s time for those who are passionate about bringing people together to make a difference in the way that our fellow students under-stand people of other faith so that all of us can meet at the well together.