Twelve current and former Hardin-Simmons University graduate and undergraduate students from Logsdon Seminary and School of Theology programs attended the Parliament of World Religions during an international gathering in Salt Lake City attended by more than 10,000 people from 80 nations and 50 faiths. Attendees were on hand to learn, educate, and interact in an interfaith environment.
"The entire weekend was an incredibly memorable experience," said Sarah Dannemiller, Master of Arts in Religion student from Greenwood, Indiana, who was particularly impacted by the women's plenary session. "I felt I was in the midst of a great and global mobilization of people to live into a true praxis of liberation. I was privileged to be in a room with thousands of other people who did not seek to simply empathize with women around the world, but stand in solidarity with them."
Dr. Rob Sellers, Professor of Theology and Connally Professor of Missions at Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon Seminary, said he hoped students would be impacted in a life-changing way by attending the Parliament.
"I hoped that my students would be introduced to the breadth and depth of the interfaith movement through this international event, and from it be inspired to commit themselves, their energies, time, and creative efforts in the future working with persons of other faiths for the betterment of all," said Sellers, who also attended the Parliament and was introduced as the new Chair-elect of the Board of Trustees.
"I further hoped that they [students] would gain a sense of what it means both to love their own Christian faith tradition but at the same time to be generous, open, respectful, and compassionate toward those who follow other paths."
Many of the students are currently enrolled in Sellers'
Christian Approaches to Other Faiths
As part of their attendance at the Parliament, each student was required to interview three other participants - of a different faith - and write a summary of their encounter. In addition, each student was tasked to write a theological reflection paper based on their experience at three different sessions.
"Sister Maureen Goodman and her focus on social justice and sacred activism really impacted my time at the Parliament," said Leila Lovett, Master of Divinity student from Mountian Home, Idaho, who noted Goodman's talk keyed on her concern for people who don't focus sufficiently on the self.
"Her question, 'how much time do we spend on our own sustainability?' got me thinking about the importance of taking care of myself; if I don't do that, I can't focus on other people."
Students had an opportunity to choose from nearly 1,200 breakout sessions in addition to the plenary sessions, which were attended by thousands.
"The plenaries were almost overwhelming at times," said Emily Foster, Master of Divinity student from Cross Plains, Texas. "[There were] all of these moments . . . when I was able to look around the room and see the most beautiful picture I have ever seen - the amount of unity and harmony shared by such a diverse group of people. At one point the entire audience - Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and so many others - joined together in singing just three words, 'Peace, Salaam, Shalom.' I was able to scan the room and witness this amazing picture of unity and harmony. It was in this moment that my heart felt so full of love and I thought to myself, 'everyone in the world needs to experience this moment.'"
Scott Appleton, Master of Arts in Family Ministry/Clinical Counseling & Marriage Family Therapy student from Coppell, Texas, said he came away from the Parliament feeling "hopeful."
"During this week I experienced what the world can look like if we abolish this 'us vs. them' mentality that is present in all walks of life," Appleton said. "Whether it is church or politics, having an 'us vs. them' mentality will always be a roadblock to compassion."
As the Chair-elect of the Parliament, Sellers said he looks forward to the next gathering - scheduled for 2017 - keenly aware of the complexity of the event.
"Since I begin my service January 1, and will oversee at least the next Parliament, I was very aware of the hundreds and hundreds of components that need to be arranged, and thus the tremendous need for a strong capable board of trustees, a dedicated Parliament staff, and cadre of volunteers," Sellers said.
"As I said in my speech when I was introduced as the coming Chair, 'The passing of this torch of leadership of the Parliament of the World's Religions I interpret as a spiritual calling, an opportunity for me, more intentionally, to join my efforts to [those of thousands of others], to share with [them] in guarding the earth and changing the world, to roll up our collective 'sleeves' and work in all the places where we live and in all the ways that we can.'"