Clarkston is home to a group devoted to the cause of bringing people of different faiths together. This group, committed to creating an open, nurturing environment in Clarkston, works to help diverse religious backgrounds feel free to interact and learn from each other.
The group is called the Clarkston Interfaith Group. After first forming with support from CDF in October of last year, its meetings have come to include local leaders representing Muslims, Jews, Hindus, several Christian denominations, and other faith traditions. Though early meetings saw only 5-7 core group members, today up to 35 group members gather together twice a month, sharing stories and discussing ways to improve interfaith relations in Clarkston.
The group is founded on the belief that every religion shares a few basic principles. These principles include love for creator, love for humanity, and basic human rights. According to Pastor Khalif Smith of the First United Methodist Church in Clarkston, who facilitates the group’s meetings, the similarities between religions are more powerful than the differences.
“At the core of just about every faith tradition that I’ve studied or even read about, there’s love, there’s respect, there’s honor, there’s integrity, there’s mercy, there’s grace,” he said. “So really, I think that at the core of all of them is how we love what I call God– what others may name differently– and how we are attentive as humans to that, and how we are attentive to building relationships amongst one another and living in peace together.”
Interfaith Group meetings have two sections: first, allowing space for sharing among the group’s diverse participants in order to deepen relationships among its members, and second, to contribute to, plan, and launch events and activities that further the group’s mission and principles. So far, the group has hosted a Human Rights Day dialogue on Dec. 10th, and organized the opening and closing ceremonies of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 21st.
The Interfaith Group’s first event, the Human Rights Day dialogue, focused on Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Held at the Clarkston Women’s Club, the event included area youth and adult residents. Attendees, including founding member Betty Hasan-Amin, shared poetry, told stories, and discussed ways to reduce bullying in Clarkston.
At the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the group facilitated a storytelling session that framed the day’s service work with the history and context of Dr. King as a faith leader as well as civil rights leader. One member of the group also sang, and others led the nearly 400 volunteers gathered in the Clarkston Community Center in prayer.
Betty Hasan-Amin, a follower of the Muslim faith, said the group originated from conversations between her husband, Ronnie, and local organizer Samia Abdullah about the need for inclusive faith services in Clarkston. She said Abdullah helped connect her to Pastor Smith. Together, they organized the first meeting in Hasan-Amin’s apartment, and that the group grew from there.
The Interfaith group has hosted guests from several other faith communities to open several of their meetings, including Imam Plemon El Amin, Imam Furqan Muhammad, and Reverend Ben Johnson, a long-time proponent of interfaith activities in greater Atlanta. One of the goals of the group, said Betty Hasan-Amin, was to encourage and seek out voices from many backgrounds and traditions.
“The beautiful part,” she said, “is that with our interfaith group, your voice is welcomed, appreciated, and sought after, so that we can enjoy the resources that are in each person’s faith traditions.”
The group is currently working on its first Interfaith Newsletter, to be distributed to local religious congregations. Going forward, Interfaith Group members hope to reach out to more members of local faith communities, to continue to host and participate in events that encourage sharing and relationship-building among faith traditions in Clarkston, and to continue to build on the good work they have begun.
For more information on the Interfaith Group or for meeting times, contact Reverend Khalif Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the group on Facebook.