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Friday, July 26, 2019

IP Staff Reflections: "Our Week at Mosaic Summer Camp!" | by Anneke Kat, Chelsea Jackson & Liz Royer

A mosaic celebrates both the uniqueness of an individual tile and the collective pattern of many tiles together. This is the driving vision behind Interfaith Youth Neighborhood Mosaic; it is a celebration of an individual’s identity and the richness that identity brings to a diverse community. This past June, 20 middle school students from South Philadelphia spent a week exploring their own identities and the diversity of their neighborhood. Here are some reflections from our staff who crafted this wonderful program. 

Elizabeth Royer – Community Programs Associate & Mosaic  Co-Facilitator 
One of my favorite moments of the week was our visit to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. Mosaic gives campers a way to learn about other faith communities that they might pass everyday, but may not know much about. Some campers had never been inside a Catholic church before this visit, while others were members of St. Thomas Aquinas and attended services there. Though St. Thomas Aquinas is one faith community, there are signs all around the sanctuary of the diversity of cultural and linguistic communities that share this sacred space. Between the different representations of saints from around the world, to the flags that hang in the back of the church to indicate all the countries represented in the congregation, it was a beautiful reminder that different communities can coexist while still maintaining the qualities that make them unique. Additionally, it was a chance for us to learn how much more there is to know about our neighbors and ourselves. One student said that she learned “about all the different types of people in our community that I didn’t know were here. I made a lot of good friends, and these strangers became my friends."

Chelsea Jackson – Community Partnerships Manager & Mosaic Co-Facilitator 
One of my favorite things about Mosaic is its use of art to celebrate each students’ identity and deepen their understanding of one another. The “Portrait Project” activity was especially powerful. Each student had their profile traced. Outside their profile, they drew/wrote the stories, assumptions, or stereotypes people project onto them, while inside their profile they wrote all of the things that make them who they are; what they like, the relationships they hold, their hobbies and talents, etc. 

One particular observation the students made was just how different each profile was. Whether it captured the shape of a hat, the style of hair, the outline of a hijab or glasses, each profile was unique to each student. The students noticed this right away, and some became embarrassed at how different their profile looked from some of their peers. A few even tried to draw a new profile of themselves and erase the parts of their profile that made them different. In that moment, I reminded the students that their differences were beautiful and important, and they should never be ashamed or embarrassed for being who they are. After our talk, most students opted to keep their original and wonderfully unique profile outline. 

This art experience allowed the students to acknowledge and challenge the judgements people make about them, judgments they may even internalize within themselves. It also empowered each student to tell their own story, and explore their own unique and complex identity. For me, it was a great reminder that interfaith work is as much about understanding and celebrating ourselves as it is about understanding and celebrating others.  

Anneke Kat – Youth & Community Programs Manager & Mosaic Co-Facilitator
Each day of camp was centered around a theme from Interfaith Philadelphia’s Passport to Understanding. The second day’s theme was “venture out” so we dove deeper into exploring the neighborhood around us. A real focus of this day was raising awareness about the wonderful community assets that exist in the South Philadelphia neighborhoods. I asked each student to draft a list of local places which are important to them and their families. Then, we crafted a list of places that are important to the wider community. Each student created their own creative map that highlights these spaces and landmarks from their own perspectives. Everyone was able to share and discuss their map. The activity not only elevated the places that are important to each student and their family, but it also gave them a chance to see the diverse narratives, identities, and variety of places that are important to their peers. Some students learned about places in their own community they weren’t aware of and the significance they hold to others. 

Check out highlights from last year's Interfaith Youth Neighborhood Mosaic! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

IP Staff Reflections: "A New Chapter: Farewell to Rev. Nicole Diroff" | by Rev. Alison Cornish

On June 6th, Interfaith Philadelphia’s wide circle of friends gathered at Tabernacle United Church in University City to celebrate the Rev. Nicole Diroff. Nicole, who served our organization over nearly the whole of its history in roles from student intern to Associate Director, stepped away from her work to move with her family to Scarborough, Maine, where her husband, Dr. Jeremy Diroff, is a new member of the staff of the Maine Veterinary Medical Center. It was an occasion that can only be described as bittersweet as those who came together from so many different parts of Nicole’s life came together in Nicole’s home congregation space to honor the amazing leader Nicole has been – celebrated her successes – and blessed her going forth to new endeavors not yet quite fully imagined.

Several speakers offered their praise and thanksgiving – these words from Milan Kunz, a member of Interfaith Philadelphia's Religious Leaders Council, certainly resonated for many of us – 
"Nicole, as a disciple of God, one of the purposes of life is to obtain His attributes…  

Faith is an attribute of God. Nicole is a person of great faith. Faith leads to action which includes a dedicated service to others. I have seen Nicole’s dedication as she has worked diligently with the RLC…What I initially thought was impossible, through Nicole and her faith, became possible. 

Hope, or a vision of the future, is a God-like attribute. I have seen Nicole in meetings with others and could see how she was a driving force in creating the vision for the organization. 

Knowledge is another attribute of God that Nicole is developing. Nicole is like a sponge, constantly soaking up information from other faiths. Her main method of knowledge acquisition was by asking inspired questions."

And founding Board member Dick Fernandez offered these sage words, both a reflection and a charge to Nicole – 
"George Bernard Shaw left us with this advice: 'There are some who look at things the way they are, and ask why?  I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?' Nicole, please don’t be swayed by Mr. Shaw. For the past many years, both here in this church and at the Interfaith Center, you have been asking why AND why not… keep it up. Your curiosity hinges on you asking both questions…"

Nicole blessed us generously with her gifts, presence, talents and passions. It was our turn to offer our thanksgiving and good wishes – with our tears and laughter both.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

IP Staff Reflections: "A Year of Practice for a Life of Practice: My Year as a Quaker Volunteer" | by Liz Royer

For the last eleven months, I have been privileged to serve at Interfaith Philadelphia as a Quaker Voluntary Service fellow. QVS is “a one-year experiment in intentional living” where young adults across the country choose to volunteer full-time at a nonprofit organization and join six or seven other fellows in intentional community. For me, what set QVS apart from other service programs was their promise that the experience would not be a “year off” from regular life, but instead a year of preparation for a whole lifetime of service. 

I remember hearing once, back when I first started to become interested in Quakerism, that “there are no Quaker beliefs, only Quaker practices”.  The Religious Society of Friends is a non-creedal religion, meaning that it has no official statement of faith. This means that Quakers hold a wide diversity of beliefs about the Divine, the world around us, and how one should live in it--in fact, some Friends would almost certainly disagree with the belief that there are no Quaker beliefs. What many (though not all) Quakers hold in common are certain practices; such as meeting for worship, using clerks instead of clergy, and making decisions by consensus.

Looking back on my year with QVS,  I’m now seeing it less as a year of preparation for a life of service, as a year of practice--for a life of practice.  This has been a year of learning how to cultivate habits that may seem small on their own, but that over time, gather a powerful momentum. Practice meeting for worship and listening to the messages shared. Practice cooking meals for a dozen people. Practice leaning into healthy conflict. Practice having fun and laughing together. 

In the beginning, the ‘feeling’ of community in our house would sometimes wax and wane. But over the course of the year, by returning to these practices, my housemates and I learned how to live together. We learned that living in community doesn’t mean being perfect all the time--we could never achieve that goal even if we wanted to. We learned that community means continuing to show up even in our imperfection, and trusting that we’ll be welcomed back again. And then gently asked to please do the dishes. 

In my opinion, engaging in  interfaith work is not really all that different from living in intentional community. Interfaith engagement invites us not to be perfect, but rather to cultivate the skills that, when accumulated, can lead to deeper understanding. Over time, certain ones emerge as central: practices like asking curious questions, leaning into new experience, and honoring everyone’s uniqueness. Perhaps most powerful of all, the practice of coming back to the table, whenever we can, and trusting that even greater benefits will reveal themselves over time. 

There is a reason why most people choose not to live in communes--it’s really hard. And even the most carefully constructed communities do not always live up to their ideals. But most of us do seek out community in one way or another: through congregations, friends, family, workplaces, neighbors, or on the internet. This is where practice comes in. 

If I had to distill this year into one learning, it would be the understanding that my faith--in community, in other people, in myself, in the effectiveness of the work--will sometimes wax and wane.  But if I continue to show up and practice, even on days when I’m not certain what the outcome will be, I can help create the communities I want to live in and the person I want to become.