People might not remember dates or statistics, but a story is something that sticks. What better way to learn about different faiths than through storytelling?
The Interfaith Committee for the Ecumenical Conference of Greater Altoona is taking a different angle for this year's Matter of Faith Series by inviting local representatives from six faiths to tell stories or parables relating to weekly themes.
"We realized that history is a story. That's all it is. Everything that happens to us is not real until we create it in a sequence and give meaning to it. The idea is we remember the stories we hear. We don't remember the facts. We remember the story. It's just such a key part about how we perceive the world and how we perceive who we are in the world and in the universe," said Cindy Baney, facilitator for the Matter of Faith series.
The series will be July 12 (stories of forgiveness), July 19 (stories of healing) and July 26 (stories of stewardship) at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Lower Brush Mountain Road, Hollidaysburg.
The free sessions are made possible by a grant from the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation. They will begin at 7 p.m. and will be followed by fellowship with refreshments at 8:30 p.m.
It is the 11th year for the program which aims to connect local people and understand different faiths.
"Our mission is to promote understanding of various faith traditions and respect other people's way of seeing the world," Baney said. "When you're a dominant Christian community, we really don't understand other faiths."
Every night the six presenters will share their stories, and others will ask questions or offer comments.
The presenters are:
n The Rev. Towanda Acey of Jaggard First United Methodist Church in Altoona, who will tell stories relating to African American traditions.
n Shamsa Anwar, a member of the Muslim community.
n Michael Allison, a member of the Buddhist community.
n James Hite, former bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Altoona Ward.
n The Rev. Michael Becker of St. John's Roman Catholic Church in Lakemont.
n Rabbi Audrey Korotkin of Temple Beth Israel.
The presenters said it's important to share stories from their faith and also learn about other beliefs.
Allison of Hollidaysburg is especially eager to explain to people more about Buddhism.
Storytelling is an important part of the religion, although the tales are never taken literally.
"Most of the wisdom stories are easily treated as a metaphor. There is not a literalist point of view in Buddhism," Allison said.
"In Buddhism the primary idea is that nothing lasts forever. Nothing is permanent. Change goes on constantly. All life forms are born and live and then die."
Problems occur when people try to fill their lives with material things such as drugs or money or cling to life, which is fleeting, he said.
"We want people to awaken and become in touch with life as it actually is, rather than our illusions of how it should be," Allison said.
Many Western religions have trouble with Buddhism because it is not God-centered, Allison said. "It's a way of living. It's a way that you live your life every day, every second," Allison said.
Learning and talking about different faiths can make people grow in their own faith, Baney said. It allows people a different way of thinking.
Hite is eager to clear up misconceptions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said some people believe it is not a Christian religion, even though "Jesus Christ" is part of the name.
"I don't know how you can get any more Christian than that," Hite said. "We hope to at least present the idea that our goals and the goals of the Christian community are in harmony and other faiths also in many ways, because we recognize our Creator as an important part of our lives and try to follow the guidelines that he has set down and given us," Hite said.
Hite hopes to get his message across through the stories he has chosen.
Anwar said her stories will come from the Quran, the Muslims' holy book. She said the Quran talks about the importance of stories in teaching lessons.
The Jewish faith has a rich history of storytelling, Korotkin said, and the stories help keep Jewish traditions alive.
"We learn from them important moral and ethical lessons about how God wants us to treat each other on Earth," Korotkin said.
With her storytelling, Acey wants to spread a message of hope and encouragement.
"I really try to be an encourager. You have to be really careful because you can't always paint a glowing picture, but if you try to paint something good out of something that seems so bad, it helps you spiritually," Acey said.
Through the sessions, the Interfaith Committee of the Ecumenical Conference hopes to open attendee's eyes and stress the positive aspects of the faiths.
"We live in a world that's full right now of negative. This is an effort to do exactly the opposite and bring people together in a non-threatening, joyous environment that will perhaps be fun. It will make people think," Allison said.