LDS Young Adults Attend Young Faith Leaders Summit in D.C.
By Page Johnson, Church News contributor
Representatives from 10 religious faiths, including several young adult Latter-day Saints, met together February 9 in the Chevy Chase (Maryland) Ward meetinghouse for the inauguration of the Washington D.C. Area Young Faith Leaders Summit.
“It’s clear that young professional Mormons have a place at the table in discussions on faith and community action,” observed Gretchen Rydin, one of the event’s organizers and a member of the Washington D.C. YSA 2nd Ward, Washington D.C. Stake.
As emerging leaders within their individual faiths and local communities, the 65 participants gathered to learn more about each other’s beliefs and to build a coalition that inspires young people to get involved in their communities and social issues. Other faith communities represented at the conference were Bahá’í, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian.
Sister Rydin and Nils Nelson, cochairmen of their ward’s service committee, worked under the direction of Jack Gordon, a Bahá’í who heads Faith in Action DC. Sister Rydin believes that the opportunity for 18- to 35-year-olds to network, share ideas, and develop leadership skills has immense long-term potential for the whole community.
“There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm to engage with one another about social justice problems in D.C.,” Sister Rydin said. “Just coming together in such a meaningful exchange showed us all we have a lot to offer the community.”
In separate talks during the day, Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray as well as Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell and Rev. Ken Bedell from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships spoke to the group and encouraged them in their efforts. Conference participants included clergy and lay members as well as community leaders who met in small discussion groups based on their neighborhoods, faith, and activities.
The open-ended discourse examined such questions as: What are some of your faith traditions and how do you organize young people? What service projects do your members engage in? How can different faith traditions help each other serve the community better?
Sima Sekhauat, a Zoroastrian, found this approach both informative and uplifting.
“I do not get the chance very often to learn about different religions, so today was really great for me,” he noted. “I am surprised about how open everyone is about their faith journeys.”
Reflecting the cooperative spirit of the day, members of different faiths offered prayers; attendees had access to two prayer rooms that had been set up, and the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation provided a vegetarian Indian meal. The Tikkun Leil Shabbat Jewish community supplied reusable eco-friendly dishes.
Mr. Gordon said the event was a positive beginning, adding that many participants appreciated the chance to learn more about the history and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were also impressed by the Church’s capacity to mobilize young people for service.
Raven Miller, Children and Youth Young Adult Pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said she was interested in how the LDS community works.
“I’m hoping to come to a service some time,” she noted. “I would love to see the conversation that happens with a congregation of only young adults.”
Gretchen Rydin, center, of the Washington D.C. 2nd Ward, was a key organizer of an interfaith event for young adults. She is joined by Kathy Haines of Catholic Charities D.C., left, and Rebecca Cataldi of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, right. Photo by Lisa Pannucci.