Celebrating spiritual differences

Program: Interfaith celebration touches on the Creation and helps families find commonalties in life.

Religion

July 02, 2004|By Melanie R. Holmes | Melanie R. Holmes,SUN STAFF

Families from four congregations gathered in Columbia this week in an annual interfaith celebration aimed at finding religious common ground through fun family activities.

"This program really becomes a family of people, and we find out we have more in common than not," said Jean Grinspoon, executive director of Bet Yeladim Preschool.

"It really brings people together no matter their religion. It's appropriate for children from 2 to 95," Grinspoon said.

The program began five years ago with two churches - Columbia United Christian Church and Lutheran Church of the Living Word - but grew this year into a gathering of about 100 people.

Meeting at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, the two congregations that launched the first program were joined by families from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and Bet Yeladim.

The three-night gathering, which ended Wednesday, began with a dinner and then proceeded to activities related to the program's theme, "Creation."

Children paraded in animal masks, made banners out of paper plates decorated with crayon drawings, listened to stories and crafted musical instruments.

"They decorated cardboard tubes and made rain sticks, symbols and castanets," said the Rev. Betty Ure, the program organizer and Columbia United's associate pastor. "The whole purpose is to have some fun things to do."

For moms, the most important part was spending time with family.

"One of the nicest things is that kids have to come with an adult," said the Rev. Beth O'Malley, pastor of Columbia United. "It has kind of enforced family time."

Thomas Smith, 12, said he enjoyed helping with the younger children.

"I've helped the kids do crafts, and I've read stories to them," said Smith, a Boy Scout who earned community service hours for his work. "And I'm learning different ways people think about God and about Jesus."

The program's highlight was a visit Tuesday from a 2-day-old heifer as part of a fund-raising project. Participants collected change nightly in an effort to raise $500 to send a cow to a poor family overseas in a program sponsored by Heifer Project International.

"They help in the process of sending animals overseas that are about to give birth," Ure said. "It's a way of providing food and warmth to a little boy or girl overseas where they need milk."

As of yesterday morning, the group had collected $401.

"We're thankful for that, and we're fairly sure there's more money coming in," Ure said. "I think we're going to have enough money for a heifer."

Members of the program planning board are now turning their focus to next year.

"We'll meet in the summer to evaluate this year and talk about next year just to plant the seeds," said Rona Cohen of Bet Yeladim. "Once the winter comes around we'll start meeting regularly."

Those who enjoyed this week's events are already looking forward to next year's celebration.

"I loved the way each of the ministers have worked together," said Mary Jane Fleck, who attends Resurrection St. Paul's Church and decided to attend the program in response to an ad. "It's a beautiful experience for the kids and the adults."

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