The Joy of Difference
by Sandy Early
During our recent Advent season, while Christians were full of anticipation with the thought of our dear Savior’s birth, the EYC at Christ Church had a memorable outing that will not be forgotten. They had the good fortune to meet with the youth group from Temple Beth El at First City Art Center where they shared a meal and created glass blown ornaments. Unlike us, Temple Beth El youth were beginning their season of Chanukah (also known as Hanukkah), which commemorates historical events important to them. Our Youth Minister James Lawrence, along with Avishay Yanay, Emissary of the Jewish Federation, organized the inter-faith gathering to discover what they have in common and dialogue about areas where they have differences. I was fortunate to observe the youth while they shared where they went to school, their grade levels, favorite subjects, extracurricular activities, family background including something unique about themselves. It was amazing how quickly friendships formed!
Before we knew it, it was time for the dinner blessing. I had to pay close attention, along with our Episcopal youth, as the Jewish youth led us in a prayerful ceremony. Because our event was held at First City Art Center during Chanukah, we all gathered around Temple Beth El’s menorah, which is the candle holder for candles lined up in a straight row. The menorah is a symbol of the nation of Israel, and its mission is based on Isaiah 42:6, “to be a light among the nations.” It seemed fitting to participate in this ritual since we were about to create ornament masterpieces with blazing light! EYC watched intently as the Temple youth lit three candles (it was the third night of Chanukah), and sang a traditional Hebrew blessing. It was beautiful, and we felt blessed to be part of this spiritual experience. The EYC learned to value the beliefs of others who were there that night celebrating miracles observed by their Jewish ancestors.
The glass-blown ornaments were simply beautiful, regardless of the experience or artistic level of each participant. The teachers from the center led each person through the process and helped even the more hesitant participants to feel accomplished! We were not divided by age or religious beliefs. The ornaments were just as diverse as the teenagers (and me), but the ornaments were all lovely finished products. Just like us!
I left our gathering that night happy and joyful; particularly grateful for the experience I had with the group. As a grandmother, I cherish this kind of interaction and hope that our EYC will have more inter-generational and inter-faith activities in the future. By listening and watching the youth interact, I came to a better understanding of their beliefs and interests. I was reminded that each person is uniquely created and that God gives us opportunities in our lives to meet people where they’re at in the world. I hope in the new year I will be more open to meeting strangers of all ages and to be more intentional about really listening to them. I will try to actively seek out people right here in our church or neighborhood whom I don’t know – or those with different views than mine, and engage with them just like I did with the delightful young people from Temple Beth El and Christ Church. Perhaps I could tag this as my New Year’s Resolution.
“Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening,” Mother Teresa.