Young women & men in Florida find Common Ground

The first Common Ground Friends meeting in the Ft. Lauderdale area in June 2011. At this gathering, these friends planned interfaith events for the year ahead. Photo courtesy of Emily Goldberg.This autumn, high school student Emily Goldberg emailed the Friendship and Faith team from Florida to share inspiring news. On her own—and with inspiration from our success in Michigan—Emily and her friends organized an interfaith circle in her area of southern Florida. We invited her to share her story and provided a link to How to Write Your Story. Emily wrote about her journey with friends in Florida, provided some photographs—and here is …

My Journey Toward Common Ground

By Emily Goldberg

The Common Ground Friends logo now graces shirts, Facebook pages and our special events.The weekend before beginning my freshman year of high school, I found myself standing in the spacious sanctuary of Calvary Chapel in Ft. Lauderdale, which I was told is the largest church in our state. The worship center was filled with big screens and far too many seats to count—packed with people of all ages and backgrounds from South Florida.

For most of them, this was church. This was their spiritual home. This was comfortable. For me, this was my first experience in this kind of religious structure after growing up in a Jewish bubble.
I had no idea what to expect on that Saturday evening. I didn’t expect that this visit would lead me to new interests and new friendships.

I did not explore this unfamiliar worship service alone. I was standing next to Madison, my first Christian friend and neighbor of thirteen years. Having grown up with her throughout my childhood, it seemed natural that we would explore each other’s faiths together. However, surrounding us that night was a sea of churchgoers. I was a neophyte at the concert-like service that seemed to unite everyone else around me.

As a band on stage began to play popular gospel songs, congregants sang along with the lyrics projected on the big screens. I watched in awe as average people suddenly seemed to be humbled by their communal voice that echoed throughout the church. Connected to the powerful music, some people began to raise their hands in the air, while others fell to their knees in prayer. It was truly amazing to see all types of people uniting to worship something greater and more empowering than themselves.

Religion is beautiful when it unifies people like this. Today, too many people denounce religion, arguing that it is the ultimate cause of wars and despair in the world. Unfortunately, these people overlook the beauty behind religion, which most of us today refer to as faith. That word, faith, describes our unproven confidence in our religions. Faith—whether unwavering or doubtful, strong or shaken, reaching out or exclusive—secures and shapes organized religion. Faith is an experience that Madison and I have shared throughout our childhood; it is also the core factor that unites Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale each week.

While religion draws boundaries and lines that people hesitate to cross, I believe that we can share a larger circle if we focus on our faith. Too many people today are limited by their individual beliefs and typically overlook the potential of creating a community.

‘I Took Action … with Friends’

These are not idle thoughts. I took action on these ideas. Now, with friends, I am combining my two passions—community and religion—through a project that I hope will be a life-long commitment. We are connecting people in a world of differences.

Here is how I started: With these beliefs in mind and my father, Michael Goldberg, as a guide, I created “Common Ground Friends,” a new community interfaith group in South Florida. We focus not on the differences that divide us, but on the common ground undergirding all religions in the world. This interfaith group is an opportunity for people to form unique friendships, like that of mine with my childhood Christian friend. This outlet for communal dialogue reassures us that it is perfectly okay for people to step outside of their respective religious bubbles and explore the power of faith in others’ lives.

Over the course of one year, I traveled to synagogues, churches, temples, and schools in order to create a core circle of leaders to propel this interfaith group. While the planned interreligious services and meetings will not immediately mend all the religious disputes in the world, they are intended to promote awareness, understanding, and respect. I knew that while standing alongside my closest Christian friend and opening my mind to new religious experiences, something seemed right. Along the way, I was able to my own faith more fully. As friends, we have never let our religions divide us. We are using our religious differences as an opportunity to learn more about each other and grow closer as friends.

‘Small Steps and Never-ending Hope’

Will my small interfaith group create universal coexistence in the world? One can only hope. I know that many other like-minded people share this hope. It’s the positive impulse we feel when we look across a room of strangers and see someone who intrigues us. We want to know more. And, in faith, we take a step to meet, to talk, to discover that we see eye to eye in many ways. If repeated over and over again, that process holds the possibility of uniting humanity. It takes small steps and never-ending hope to create peace. Common Ground Friends was created to take those first steps.

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