Written by: Amy Austin '21
(photo caption): Amina Amirkhanli, this year’s interfaith coordinator for Campus Ministries, Muslim; Abbey Stoetzel, last year’s interfaith coordinator, Methodist; and Humberto Tinsman, one of two Student Pastors with Campus Ministries, Community of Christ
As a member of the Community of Christ, the daughter of a pastor, granddaughter of an elder, and having two parents who met at their region's church camp, my life has been deeply affected and intertwined with this church. It even led me to making the decision to attend Graceland University.
Graceland was founded by the Community of Christ in 1895. Although many colleges founded in accordance with a church are seen as strictly encouraging the membership of their own organization, Graceland has promoted and practiced the belief in the spiritual journey and development of its students in whatever denomination or beliefs that includes.
Graceland’s online catalogue describes the initial mission of the college as being a “nonsectarian institution of higher education open to students of all faiths.” Seeing the need to accomplish this more intentionally, an Interfaith organization was created that offers students the opportunity to share in faith and spirituality of all types, together, and to learn from each other.
With a rich history of acceptance and openness toward personal development, the Interfaith groups’ ideals of uniting students on their religious journeys aligns perfectly with the university’s mission; one that can often be overlooked due to the heritage of our school.
Abbey Stoetzel, the House President of Dimora and a former active participant of Interfaith explains the importance of this group.
“Graceland is a very diverse community. We have students from several different programs, and Campus Ministries wants to represent that. While Graceland is affiliated with Community of Christ, it's so important to reach beyond that. While [Campus Ministries] was doing a good job of doing that with Christian denominations, there was a need to recognize the other faiths that we have on campus. Interfaith is very important for building relationships between diverse people and for getting things done by diverse people.”
The Interfaith program allows a place for people to gather, share ideas and share different perspectives on prominent issues in accordance with their religious beliefs and values. For example, last year the group showed a documentary and held a panel discussion regarding the Dakota access pipeline and the different religious views that relate to treatment of the land and earth.
Amina Amirkhani is a senior at Graceland. She is a member of the Muslim Student Association and is the current coordinator of the Interfaith Program. She describes the program as something that “includes and provides information for students from very different religious backgrounds.”
Right now, the program hopes to have events every fourth Wednesday of the month to offer these opportunities to students on the Lamoni campus. On Wednesday, Oct. 27, the Interfaith program hosted Will Raiser, a former Graceland professor who converted to Islam and moved to France around 30 years ago. Raiser spoke about his experiences both in religion and in traveling with the Christian Peacemaking Teams. He suggested that your beliefs may change, but it’s important to continue to grow – as a person as well as spiritually.
Interfaith events like this one offer a unique opportunity to understand the importance of how religions can work together to initiate change.
Other events that occur more frequently but are still an opportunity for students to connect spiritually include Chautauqua, described by Amirkhani as having, “ very similar motives but it's [a] more chill environment with snacks and music.”
So far on campus, the Interfaith program represents the Muslim, Buddhist, and many denominations of the Christian faith. Campus Minister, Mike Hoffman, has sponsored the program for the past three years and it is slowly growing and meeting more frequently, trying to stress the importance of these discussions.
Stoetzel hopes the program expands and finds new ways to express interfaith. “I hope Graceland continues to get a diverse group of people and that the program continues to reach out to everyone. The whole idea of interfaith anywhere, not just at Graceland, is that if we don't learn from each other and respect each other, how are we supposed to change this world for the better?”
Amirkhani is the coordinator of Interfaith, so if students would like to get involved or have ideas, she encourages them to contact her or stop by the Campus Ministries Office.