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Bethel Students Share Faith Stories with Augsburg and St. Thomas Students

Bethel Students Share Faith Stories with Augsburg and St. Thomas Students

About 80 local college students participate in “Interfaith Storytelling for a Vibrant Democracy: Engaging the Diverse, the Devout, and the ‘Nones.’” (Photo Credit: provided by Tanden Brekke)

About 80 local college students, including 15 from Bethel University, attended a conference last month at the University of St. Thomas titled, “Interfaith Storytelling for a Vibrant Democracy: Engaging the Diverse, the Devout, and the ‘Nones.’” The students gathered to share their own faith stories and listen to others.

Professor of Philosophy Sara Shady helped organize the conference and described its purpose as “learning to tell our faith stories and listen well to others.” She hoped students came away with an appreciation for hearing different people’s stories, but also knowing that their own faith story is important.

For Madeleine Salisbury ’18, that was exactly what happened. “Walking away, I want to be more vulnerable in sharing my own faith,” she says. “I think what I found was that those who were willing to be vulnerable and share were the people I respected the most, and the ones I was able to connect with the most. And they seemed to have a stronger faith, I mean they were willing to be vulnerable, to ask questions and challenge them. So, I want to be more vulnerable and put myself in the position where I have to challenge my faith so that I can grow.”

Salisbury, who is studying athletic training at Bethel, heard about the conference through a class. Trevor Limberg ’18 lives in Bethel’s Frogtown Urban Living Experience (FULE) in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, and he heard about the conference through that experience. “I was very intrigued by this conference, specifically because it was set to provide a space for listening and embracing others’ stories, rather than putting them up for debate,” says Limberg.

A missional ministries and reconciliation studies double major, Limberg said he enjoyed working with others during the conference. “One of the many meaningful highlights was getting to collaborate with those of different backgrounds—particularly in religious identification—in order to create an idea of what kind of environment we could create together in which we could focus on our shared values, and an emphasis of truly embracing unconditional love, rather than debating our differences,” he says.

Assistant Professor of History Amy Poppinga also saw the collaborative parts as beneficial to the student participants. “Because the conference was workshop-based, students were engaging with peers, not just listening to experts,” she says. “They had the opportunity to connect shared experiences, concerns, commonalities, despite coming from multiple campuses.”

The conference included plenary sessions from professional storytellers as well as workshop-based discussions with other conference participants. Poppinga co-led a workshop called, “My Land, Your Land, Our Land: Moving into One Another’s Stories.” Tanden Brekke, assistant director of service-learning and community engagement, co-led a pre-conference tour of Dakota sacred sites.

Professor of English Marion Larson, who also helped organize the event, saw the interfaith storytelling conference as an opportunity for Bethel students to meet, interact with, and hear stories of people whose religious beliefs differ from those of most students on Bethel’s campus. “If we are to cultivate Christ-followers who can be agents of change and reconciliation in society, then we need to help our students develop the mindset and skills necessary in building civic pluralism,” she says.

About two years ago, Bethel University Executive Vice President and Provost Deb Harless appointed a group of faculty and staff to form a working group to look at ways to do interfaith conversations well at a Christian college. “For Bethel, we think about our students after they graduate, and out of their love for Christ, how they can be supportive and live well with people of other faiths,” says Shady, who serves on the working group along with Larson, Poppinga, and Brekke.

The group has a partnership with Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and has received two grants from the organization to fund its work. IFYC also provided funding for the interfaith storytelling conference through a joint grant to the three participating universities. IFYC President and Founder Eboo Patel will visit Bethel on April 9 and speak in Chapel.