Take a Small Step Toward Peace, by Bob Lesniewski and Amy Renshaw

Why should people get together? Well, one good reason is that it makes us happy. According to a Harvard University study, close relationships with others are vital to our happiness, health, and longevity. We are people who need other people. When we get together, we come to understand our neighbors better. We find out what beliefs and values we have in common. We bond over shared interests—whether that’s running, square dancing, fishing, or watching Packer games.

It makes sense that more understanding and friendship among individuals can lead to a more peaceful community. And we all want to live in peace. You have an opportunity to get together with people who believe in peace at the Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace and Unity on Wednesday, September 25, at 6:30 p.m. at the Ecumenical Religious Center on the UW-Eau Claire campus.

We hear every day that our world is becoming more and more divided. We hear about people’s hatred, anger, and dislike for those of other races and religions. We may complain about how politicians and leaders can’t get together and find agreement. Let’s set an example for them. If we’re not working to break down the divisions in our society, we’re really helping to keep them in place. But if we spend time focusing on the beliefs we have in common with others, we can build hope for a brighter future.

One way to start making connections is by listening to and learning from others. When we walk around our city, we can see that it’s easy to ignore other people and avoid getting together. We can go to a fast food restaurant, each of us sitting in our separate cars at the drive-up window, and grab a meal without having a real conversation with anyone. Many of us spend our time looking at our mobile phones, signaling to others that using a technical device is more important than talking to others. We may plug our ears and listen to music or news from people hundreds of miles away, rather than listening to the people right next to us. Maybe we can find a better balance and use technology to help us make connections with each other through email, social media, and text messages.

Even though we’re busy, maybe we can carve out the time to have a cup of coffee or go for a walk with a neighbor. If having a peaceful and happy community and getting along with others are important to us, are we taking opportunities to do something about it? Are we modeling it for kids and youth? Have you ever seen a person sitting alone and gone over to say hello and ask to join them? When you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store and the cashier asks how you are, do you look them in the eye and say, “How are you ?” You may find that they look up in surprise and say, “Thanks for asking!”

On September 25, you have an opportunity to take a small step toward building a stronger community. We’re gathering with people who are different from us because of the way they practice their religious beliefs. People of any religion or no religion are warmly welcomed. We’ll hear from those who practice the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Baha’i faiths. We’ll focus on values we have in common: community, respect, compassion, listening, and kindness. These are values that can make the world better. If you believe these things are important, and if you have hope for peace, we hope that you’ll join us!

Bob Lesniewski is a monastic Catholic, a Benedictine oblate and organizer of the Interfaith Prayer Service. Amy Renshaw is a Baha’i and a writer for Brilliant Star, a kids’ magazine and website published by the Baha’i faith.

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Column by Julie Brenden, Lead Pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church

“We are a church that rolls up our sleeves and gets to work.” This statement defines the acts of service the eight Eau Claire congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are engaging in next weekend. The goal is to be a visible sign of God’s gracious presence to the benefit of the Eau Claire community. This is the second year all eight congregations have collaborated in the service day of “God’s Work. Our Hands.”

The “God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday is Sept. 29. It is an opportunity for congregations to find meaningful ways to work together for the sake of the neighbor. The day encourages the people to live out their faith in a variety of ways.

There are outdoor projects including groups of people working to clear buckthorn from the city, clean up public trails and garden plots, or pick up trash from the roadside along Highway 37.

Other projects show compassion like a hot breakfast served at Wilson Park for those who have no homes, working with Sleep In Heavenly Peace to build beds for kids who sleep on the floor, and packing care items in backpacks for guests of Sojourner’s House.

Some will serve on this day with gifts that encourage like cookies baked for local police in thanks for their service. A choir will bring their gift of song to the residents at Prairie Point. Care packages will be assembled for new students at UW-Eau Claire who have been part of the Foster Care system.

The members of the Lutheran congregations of Good Shepherd, Grace, Hope, Immanuel, St. John’s, Spirit, Trinity and University are signing up to participate in over 20 service projects. Folks from these congregations are excited to work together forming new friendships while doing what is needed to make the community better. The people joyfully serve side by side because they share a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.

The congregations are also committed to learning as serving. This year a representative from the ELCA will hold a demonstration on the Church’s work to help immigrant children from Central America. Participants will learn how to advocate for the most vulnerable who are displaced from their homelands.

This year the service opportunities have been expanded to Saturday. People are encouraged to support the Hike for the Homeless benefiting Beacon House on Saturday, September 28th.

Every day, people of faith are serving God by loving and serving others in need. But on this one weekend of the year these Lutheran congregations work together to be a force and a sign of God’s presence. Many will wear a golden t-shirt with the message that what we do is truly “God’s Work. Our Hands.”

The goal of the day is for a cleaner creation, that those who struggle might have their basic needs met, for others to feel appreciated and loved, and to support agencies in Eau Claire that are already doing many good things.