The Celebration of Abraham will meet in person on February 4th at 3 pm at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnation and practice GENEROUS LISTENING.
“It is a great pleasure to be able to welcome people in-person to our community conversation after three years of having to do our program online,” said Helen Roland, chair of the Celebration of Abraham and longtime Christian member of the organization. “Seeing people on a screen is one thing but sitting with people in person allows for deeper connection,” she added. COA is asking that folks register for this free event at https://bit.ly/abrahamlistening.
The three years since the Celebration of Abraham (https://celebrationofabraham.net) has been able to meet in person have been difficult for most us—not only isolation, but illness, for some loss of friends and family, and the ever increasing political divisions. Interfaith connections and conversations have become extremely challenging, and yet they are more important than ever.
The planning board of the Celebration of Abraham (COA)) includes people from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. When the Celebration of Abraham (COA) Board started meeting in September to plan for this year’s interfaith gathering, the focus was on the deep polarization in our country and how sharing across our faith traditions might provide tools to bridge the divisions in our community, especially in light of the Israeli/Gaza War. With the escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza, the members of the board have felt a myriad of emotions from shock to anger, to fear and more. People have asked the COA to issue a statement about the war. As Vera Sandronsky, a Jewish member of the COA Board, has noted “We did issue a statement that focused on a shared desire for peace, but we were aware that our own board members needed to process the events with each other if we were going to ask the broader community to come together.”
From the start of our planning, we recognized that Celebration of Abraham wanted to find a way to help the whole community to connect across current divides. The war in Israel and Gaza posed a deep crisis for all of us. Even though as a Jewish, Christian, and Muslim organization we have worked together on projects over 20 years, we needed to figure out how to talk about the deep impact this war was having in each of us. Anne Kjemtrup, a longtime Muslim COA board member pointed out that “Despite deep connections among board members over the years, the Israeli/Gaza war has challenged us to know how to live the organization’s mission of welcoming all into Abraham’s tent.”
Luckily two members of our group, Vera and Anne, had received facilitation training in difficult conversations from NewGround https://mjnewground.org/ through the Sisterhood of SalaamShalom and helped our board hold space for the pain we were all feeling. The facilitated conversation allowed us to speak what was in our hearts, recognize our common humanity, and to express feelings we might otherwise have been reluctant to share. “An unexpected benefit of this conversation was to reset the way we talked at subsequent meetings; each of our voices seemed to have a more equal role in our discussions, “ Vera noted. “This conversation highlighted that structured dialogue can be an important path to finding and building common humanity,” said Anne.
After sharing among ourselves, the board realized that we needed to offer participants tools for having difficult conversations in our Abraham community. This led us to our topic—GENEROUS LISTENING. We chose our topic Generous Listening because we believe that all our traditions call on us to open our hearts and ears to others, even when we see the problems from different perspectives, some grounded in our religious identities. We believe that strong communities must have these conversations. We invite you to join us at this year’s Celebration. Our goal is to offer a model of engagement across differences. Our table facilitators will receive training to be able to hold this space for generous listening.
As in past years, the program will begin with brief reflections from a Jewish, Christian, and Muslim speaker, each sharing insights from their traditions on Generous Listening, followed by participants sharing around a table. Volunteer facilitators will be trained to use an approach adapted from the NewGround training for interfaith communities. As in past Celebrations, there will be a ritual handwashing and breaking of bread. The COA will collect a free will offering for the nonprofit organization Seeds of Peace which brings together young people from conflict areas of the world, including Israel and Palestine, to develop them into future peace leaders of the world (https://bit.ly/abrahamseedsofpeace). The event will end with Randy Ferris leading all in singing “Children of Abraham.”
We look forward to meeting at our new venue, the Lutheran Church of the Incarnation at 1701 Russell Blvd.