Gigi has been one of my good friends since I was nine years old. Her parents raised her as Bahai. Though we come from different religious backgrounds, we established a strong relationship through our passion about our faiths. Gigi and I met as fourth graders at National Cathedral School (NCS) in Washington, D.C., an all-girls Episcopalian school that is on the same campus as the Washington National Cathedral. Gigi and I first played together in our fourth-grade edition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We’ve known each other for over ten years and our relationship has led me to grow in my faith. Over the years we had many conversations about our religious traditions and how they hold similar, if not the same values. I learned that there are more similarities than differences between faiths, even between those that do not stem from the same origin. Intersecting principles of faith helped established a deep friendship, one that led me to become interested in interfaith relations in the first place.
When I started at UW-Madison I found religious diversity, but it was not the religious diversity I was used to. A lot of my peers from freshman year identified as Christian, but did not really practice their faith. Additionally, I met many Jewish students that practiced different forms of Judaism. Conversations with my peers, more than any class, taught me about their religions and how they connect with my own. My relationship with Gigi encouraged me to open myself to these new experiences. If it were not for the relationships I developed during my freshman year, I would not have found the Interfaith Fellows program.
Now that I am living off campus, the random religion conversations at one in the morning do not happen as often. The CRGC’s Interfaith Fellows program creates space for these conversations, thankfully at better times of day. In the few sessions so far I’ve learned helpful facts not only about religions different than my own, but also about different forms of Christianity. Two weeks ago, for instance, each fellow brought an object and a piece of text related to their religious experience and background. I brought two very special paperweights: one showed Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, the other an old symbol of the Episcopal Church. These were given to me when I graduated for my work as an acolyte by the Canon of Worship at Washington National Cathedral. By talking about my role as an acolyte, I had the opportunity to inform others about Episcopal worship liturgy, and found out about Protestant traditions that do not have acolytes.
I enjoyed these conversations not only because I got to talk about something that I am passionate about, but because the other Interfaith Fellows were sincerely interested in the topic. So I am really looking forward to what’s ahead this year and to working together as UW-Madison’s Interfaith Fellows. I think I have to thank Gigi for applying for the Interfaith Fellowship. If I had not met Gigi when I was nine years old, my religious and interfaith paths would have been very different.