In a community as diverse as Parkdale-High Park, one church is making sure young people get an education in all manner of faiths.
“God Everywhere” is a new youth program initiated by Emmanuel Howard Park United Church on Wright Avenue in Roncesvalles Village.
Beginning Jan. 6, Rev. Anne Hines, the minister at Emmanuel Howard Park, said the church will launch a series of guest speakers from a range of faith groups.
“The United Church has done a lot in terms of interfaith dialogue,” she said.
The more liberal of our United Churches, of which we are one, believe that God can be found in many places.”
But, instead of taking the children to a mosque, synagogue or temple for a lesson in other faiths, Hines said the church decided to invite people of other faiths into their church as a show of fellowship. The series of talks is open to all children, between the ages of seven to 12, regardless of religious affiliation.
It’s an important age for children to be learning about other faiths and traditions, Hines said.
“When they are in school and particularly in the middle elementary grades they start to really notice the difference in the kids around them and they will start to notice that there are kids of different faiths,” Hines said.
“We thought that was an important time for kids to have exposure in a very positive, comfortable way.”
The series will feature guests from Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Baha’i and Native spirituality.
“We were very thoughtful about which of the faith groups we wanted to highlight in our community,” Hines said.
The guests are each very heavily involved in their respective faiths and come from all over the city.
Each guest will be invited to say a prayer in the sanctuary, in front of the entire congregation at the beginning of the Sunday service, before heading off with the young people to the Emmanuel Howard Park Church’s version of Sunday school, dubbed, ‘Definitely Not Your Parent’s Sunday School’.
“Our guests will not be just talking at the kids,” Hines said. “We want it to be done in a way that the kids will actually be forming a relationship with this person.”
The guest will lead a fun and interactive introduction to their faith.
“Our native Canadian guest, for instance, has a chest full of interesting religiously significant artifacts, so she is going to do a treasure chest with the kids where they can take stuff out and hold it and talk about it,” Hines explained.
The series of talks will
end with an event called Noah’s Pudding on Feb. 10, modelled after a project by the Canadian Intercultural Dialogue Centre, a Muslim organization, where a traditional Turkish desert called Noah’s Pudding is made and shared.
“They have started to make the making of this pudding into an opportunity for interfaith dialogue,” she said. “So they will come on a Friday night and make up the pudding with our youth group and as they do that there will be a sharing about the tradition of the pudding, the history and the culture of the pudding.”
The making of Noah’s Pudding is a common practice among Muslims and Christians in the Middle East. People who cook it share a cup with their neighbours and it carries with it the significance of good relations.
“I hope the big take-away for the kids is that God can be found everywhere, in every person, in every faith tradition, on every rock and every stone,” Hines said.
“It promotes a sense of connection.”
Hines said she expects this program may be a springboard to other interfaith activities at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church.
“We are all doing the same thing,” she said.
“We are all recognizing that we are not just flesh and blood. We are spirit.”
Registration is encouraged, although not mandatory, by calling 416-536-1755.