Zoë Garry ’19 MDiv completed her field education placement at The Chautauqua Institution’s Abrahamic Program for Young Adults, an interfaith community, where her job requirement was to “be Christian.” She says her faith has always been important to her, but she had never been in a community that required her to let her faith be the sole defining factor of who she is.
This summer I worked as the Christian coordinator for the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults (APYA) at The Chautauqua Institution in western New York, a 162-year-old institution that is committed to the spiritual, intellectual, and creative growth of its community. APYA was created twelve years ago as a religious collaboration between the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Chautauqua attracts clergy, scholars, and artists from all over the world.
My job over the summer was to “be Christian” and to live out my Christian beliefs in an interfaith community.
I worked alongside a Jewish rabbinical student, a Sunni clerical student, and a Shia Ismaili student. Together we organized and facilitated interfaith dialogues and events for the young adults at Chautauqua. All too often, people choose to focus on interfaith similarities and neglect important differences. In stark contrast, APYA’s mission is to highlight the vast similarities between the Abrahamic faiths, such as our mutual commitments to justice, community, love, and forgiveness, while also celebrating the unique beauty of the individual religions, such as our varying styles of prayer.
My job over the summer was to “be Christian” and to live out my Christian beliefs in an interfaith community. I was the face of Christianity in our Abrahamic family and was available to answer questions and facilitate conversations concerning my faith. Prior to Chautauqua I had never been defined solely as a “Christian.” My faith has always been important to me and influenced my life, but I have never worked or been in a community that required me to live out my faith and let that be the sole defining factor of who I am.
While most questions were pretty general, many were personal. For example, I was once asked how I prayed. These weekly tables helped me have difficult conversations and understand misunderstandings. Despite being an interfaith organization, APYA taught me how to be intentionally Christian and live my life as a disciple of Christ and His teachings.
Before enrolling at Princeton Theological Seminary, I was teaching English in Brooklyn, New York. I was unsure if seminary was where I was supposed to be as I began my studies. But my time at Chautauqua confirmed my call to seminary and to fostering intentional interfaith communities where homogeneity is broken, where relationships are formed, and where we can work together on loving our neighbors as children of God.
“Princeton Seminary shaped and equipped me for the teaching ministry that I am practicing now. I was shaped spiritually, mentally, and socially by all means.”