On Friday, about 75 young people - Muslims, Christians and Jews - will gather at the DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle, Tenn., and talk about all that supposedly weird stuff they do in their particular faith.
The idea of the third annual peace summit of the Sons and Daughters of Abraham, according to the Rev. Joe Porter, is to give them an appreciation of each other's cultures. Porter, a retired priest who is serving at tiny St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Battle Creek, Tenn., hopes each person sees what is exchanged as "a gift they bring to us [and one] we take to them." When all is said and done, he says, he hopes they will see that "so many aspects are similar" in the three faiths.
Porter says the organization is the brainchild of two mid-state women, Betty Carpenter, a Christian who is director of youth ministry at Otey Memorial Parish Episcopal Church in Sewanee, and Sabina Mohyuddin, a Muslim who is a youth advisor for the Islamic Center of Nashville.
Carpenter, according to Porter, observed representatives of the Jerusalem-based organization Kids4Peace at a church in North Carolina and thought it would be good to start a similar group with support from her youth group. He then hooked her up with Mohyuddin, who says they both wanted "to get our kids to talk and know more about one another."
The Muslim youth she advised were "wanting to tell their story, to freely express who they are without being judged and taunted. They wanted to be just another kid at school. Betty wanted her kids to open their eyes -- to know and learn more about [others]."
The group initially brought lunches to people living in tents after being displaced by flooding in Nashville in 2010. The first peace summit was in 2011.
Participants at that first gathering "saw each other as just another kid," Mohyuddin says. "You
don't see that side at school. School is not a safe place to talk about religion.
At the summit, "they're free to be themselves, with all their similarities and their differences, and see that they can overcome those differences and work together," she says.
Some attendees, who range in age from junior high school to college will be coming for the third time.
This year, according to Porter, participants will play soccer and hike together, break bread and talk about the rituals and traditions in their respective faiths. Wedding, funerals -- all the "crisis rituals" -- will be on the table, he says.
The Friday-night, Saturday-morning gathering doesn't stop at the DuBose Center, Porter says. Over the next 12 months, the young people will get together -- like in previous years -- for tasks such as working in a food bank, talking about fasting or contributing gifts for the hungry.
"It's a continuing quest to come to know and understand and appreciate each other," he says.
Porter, who served churches in the Episcopal dioceses of Tennessee and West Tennessee during his career, says he was always interested in ecumenical and interfaith work, but for the past 15 years has seen the influx of Muslim residents "into the rural part of our world."
"Muslims are scattered all around us," he says. "I saw this happening, and I wanted to learn a little bit about them. I was so intrigued; there were so many parallels [with Christianity]. Islam is like the codified ethics of Jesus."
Learning to overcome differences is important for teenagers and young adults, Mohyuddin says.
"It helps them be more accommodating, more understanding as they grow up," she says. "It helps make a peaceful world."
Contact Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.