I became involved in the Akron Area Interfaith Council (known as the AAIC) in August, 2015. I received a call from a United Church of Christ minister Chuck Auscherman asking if I would participate in a DVD for the AAIC. I had never heard of the organization and couldn’t imagine how I could serve. We agreed to a face-to-face meeting the next day during which he filled me in on the AAIC and this current project. Basically, I was asked to voice on the DVD the official position of the Catholic Church on interfaith dialogue. How blessed I was that Pope Francis had just addressed that issue a few weeks before!
In 1980 faith leaders from the Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox, African American, and other Protestant faiths joined together to create the AAIC. These clergy persons were all friends and saw the need to have an organization in place for communication and collaboration as well as the ability to address issues that arise between faith groups.
The mission statement specifically calls the AAIC to coordinate and enable effective interfaith responses to the social, moral, ethical, and cultural issues of the Akron area community as well as to promote freedom of religion, equality, and understanding. Currently, the AAIC has representatives from the Baha’i, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Christian (including Catholic), and Unitarian Universalist faiths. We meet bi-monthly to build friendships as well as to collaborate in addressing specific needs.
Intrigued by the variety of faiths of which I was, for the most part, unfamiliar, I decided to join the AAIC for a year in order to learn more deeply the origins and practices of those I knew so little of. The persons I have met and with whom I have engaged in projects have deeply enriched my life. At this time, not all members of the Council are clergy and there is a good mixture of male and female. I am the first religious sister many of these have encountered. Once we get to know one another, so many walls and barriers are brought down. We welcome one another as children who come from the same God, no matter how God is named and understood.
Two of our largest projects are The Fall Forum and The Hunger Walk. The former is a yearly event that brings topics of current interest to the interfaith community that enlighten and inform. This year the Forum addressed Akron’s opiate epidemic; titled “Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities,” it featured presentations by 1) a couple who had lost their son to heroin addiction, 2) Summit County Opiate Task Force, and 3) an addiction recovery speaker.
The Hunger Walk is held annually in early May. Over 20 congregations have joined together to eliminate food insecurity in the Akron area. One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Young children, teens, and even family pets participate! The May 2017 walk garnered $26,375.02 for the Foodbank.
I have so appreciated involvement with the members of this Council. It is such a joy to share different faiths with openness and acceptance, learning enriching insights from one another. We are realizing that at the heart of it all is our common humanity originating from the same God although called by various names such as Yahweh, Allah, Baha (All-Glorious), and Krishna. This approach is so needed at this time in our country when there is so much division. The more we share together, the more I find we share in common. In the year ahead, I hope to celebrate a worship service at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Islamic mosque, Temple Israel, and a Hindu temple in order to appreciate each faith’s reverence and love for God.