All around Abraham

Interfaith camp focuses on common patriarch of Christianity, Judaism, Islam

July 27, 2012


When St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Portland, Ore., decided not to host its summer rummage sale this year, members realized the church basement would be empty.

They decided an interfaith children’s camp would be a great way to fill it up.

And so with local Jewish and Muslim congregations, St. Mark is hosting Abraham’s Tent, a weeklong day camp in August for children in grades 1-8. Each faith community will supply volunteers to lead activities and curriculum focused on the story of Abraham as told by each tradition.

St. Mark has an established relationship with P’nai Or, the Jewish congregation, and has done interfaith work in the past, said the Rev. Barbara Campbell, pastor of St. Mark.

“The vision is of raising a community of children that really understand each of these traditions and whose faith is even enhanced by understanding the roots of their own traditions,” Campbell said.

The Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations are all relatively small, and attendance for the camp’s inaugural year is limited to members and their friends. Many of the children will know each other from school, but “they’ve probably never talked with one another about their faith,” said the Rev. Barbara Campbell, pastor at St. Mark. “Kids may come home with questions that are hard to answer.”

For that reason, camp leaders will also hold a pre-camp meeting for parents to go over the curriculum and anticipated questions. Abraham’s Tent will also feature a “question wall,” on which campers can ask questions about the other traditions, such as beliefs, customs or holidays.

The week will culminate with a play written and performed by the children, using what they learned about Abraham’s story and how it relates to their own lives. The campers will attend Friday prayers at Rizwan Mosque — a partner in the camp — and then perform the play.

Campbell said leaders of the three congregations didn’t work from other interfaith camp models, but that interfaith work is a timely topic. She hopes the camp will be a model for the community.

“It’s easy for these three faith groups to get together and get along and not feel conflict over their differences,” she said. “It’s simply: we’re different and we each have a role to play in God’s creation.”

  1. This sounds so lovely, so open minded, so sweet. And yet it brings up perplexing questions: 1. How possibly could Christian or Jewish children WORSHIP in a Muslim prayer service? They cannot, without breaking portions of the Ten Commandments. 2. How will the story of Abraham not CAUSE tension, because Ishmael doesn't exactly fare well? Shall all three faiths be mad at God for what he did through Abraham? 3. If "we each have a role to play in God's creation," is not the role of the Jews to be blessed in order to be a blessing, revealing the nature of God to the nations? And are not Christians given the role to proclaim the Kingdom of God as it was revealed in Jesus Christ, calling everyone to relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Syncretism is an old error, yet this camp appears to be constructed to celebrate syncretism. 4. Finally, there is what economists call "opportunity cost:" "the cost of a commercial decision regarded as the value of the alternative that is forgone." While not a commercial decision, the decision to hold a syncretistic camp meant that holding a Christian-outreach camp was foregone. Any effort to reach unreached kids with the Good News of Jesus Christ is foregone. Up with People or Rotary International or the local junior college could provide an interfaith-information camp. Alternatively, a church, with a solid belief that distinguishes it from other faiths, is the only group that can bring children to faith in Jesus Christ. But if a church believes little to nothing, it might as well intermingle its murky nonbelief with whatever else might be out there in the religious market. Jim Berkley Roslyn, WA

    by Jim Berkley

    July 27, 2012