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Friday, May 28, 2021

An Introspection Into My Interfaith Engagement Journey | By Neil Reeves

    When I decided to attend seminary, I had to accept my call and determine which seminary to attend. Initially, I planned to attend a seminary that taught mainly my faith tradition. At this seminary, I would have the opportunity to interact with students whose faith traditions can also be found in many African American communities. The alternative was to attend a seminary that offered a variety of theological perspectives. I knew that my post-seminary work would include some interfaith work. I have always believed deep down that people of different faith traditions are more alike than they are different. So, what decision did I make? I chose the latter and decided to attend Lancaster Theological Seminary (LTS), a seminary that in 2020 had student representation of 18 denominations.

I am so glad I chose a seminary that stretched me beyond my theological comfort zone because it gave me the opportunity to learn from others whose views and practices differ from my own. Through LTS, I also secured an internship with Interfaith Philadelphia, an organization whose primary mission is interfaith engagement and understanding.

Learning from others about their faith traditions has allowed me to become closer to my faith tradition. I meditate more on the beliefs and rituals of my tradition - some of which I now embrace more. I am also more curious about the beliefs of other faith traditions and their worship practices. Interfaith engagement has also enabled me to become a better listener and forced me to reflect on my internal biases and stereotypes about others. Another benefit of my journey is that I am establishing new relationships with people with whom I may be able to partner in the future, to work on societal issues that are important to me - including mass incarceration, homelessness, fatherhood, and economic inequality and empowerment.

I have learned a lot but still have more to learn. I must admit this journey challenges me daily. Due to the time I spend using my technological gadgets, engaging in volunteer work, studying, and following through with my own family commitments, I often find myself with my head down, immersed in my own individual bubble and echo chamber. It’s comfortable there and honestly feels busy enough. However, this self-centeredness causes me to ignore those people, experiences, and views that are not within my immediate and daily surroundings, including those whose faith traditions differ from my own. I welcome the opportunity to meet this challenge by intentionally remaining in dialogue with my fellow seminarians, connecting and establishing relationships with people I meet through interfaith events, and attending worship spaces unfamiliar to me. I must continuously rise to meet this challenge and do my part to make the world a better place by eliminating subconscious biases I may have against others.

Neil Reeves is currently a Seminary Intern with Interfaith Philadelphia. He is a second-year student at Lancaster Theological Seminary and serves as president of the men’s ministry at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

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