We are never too old to keep learning


An intern, Brooke, from Mount Vernon Nazarene University College of Social Work needed to include a cross-cultural experience in her placement with us. Just about the time she inquired with me, I got an annual invite to the Noor Islamic Cultural Center for a Ramadan “breaking of the fast” iftar meal.

Brooke was going to go to Radnor United Church of Christ for an ecumenical experience to hear me speak, but the date didn’t work out. So, interfaith immersion was scheduled.

We sat at a table with a plate of figs and water: a traditional break-the-fast food. Through years of interfaith work, starting in early 1990s, I’ve had the privilege at many incredibly meaningful multi-faith tables. For years, my peer Rita Cohen — the first female president of Temple Israel in Columbus — and I would teach churches and other groups about the Seder and share beautiful Haggadahs.

Noor, from its build in Hilliard 19 years ago, has been a vibrant place of hospitality and community learning. A brother in faithfulness, Imran Malik, has invited and included me to more celebrations than I can remember. Now as a Mennonite pastor dedicated to housing and the seeking of space and place for all people toward peace, I’ve found even deeper meaning in these interactions. Perhaps the extended years of social isolation during the pandemic, perhaps it is the profound longing within my bones to be an agent of restorative justice, I genuinely wanted and needed to be present this year. Like most, my schedule this week was so tight, it was the student and her learning that actually locked me into the commitment.

Are you locked into or pledged to life-learning? My parents have modeled this for me. Both nearing their 90s, rural folk from Celina, Ohio. Dad’s on the New York Stock Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade via his iphone – daily. Let’s not forget the weather channel! Mom – Bible Study, University Women, books, magazines, etc! Their drive for learning quite honestly, learning about their faith and learning about the world, I am convinced, energizing their very vitality for living.

Brooke and I and all participants at the iftar last night had a very tender and raw lesson when one of the faith community’s leaders shared how devastating this year has been. In the community’s own words, “Our hearts have been been broken by what has been happening in the world. We don’t expect you to not have other friends, like Jewish friends you love. But, we also need your friendship right now. We need to know you care. In a context when NPR is reporting that 80% of the hungry children in the world are now concentrated in Gaza, show us that you care.”

What was going to be an ecumenical assignment became a profound interfaith experience. As a clergywoman yoked to both peace church and Jesus known as a prince — royalty of authentic peace — I want to be real in my living, to the best of my ability. There’s more loving to do in this aching world, and I personally seek your forgiveness for my mistakes and to those who spoke at the iftar (and all harmed people) if you have not witnessed a commitment to love in me, I’m sorry. I want you to see it and know it in my actions. I want you to see it and know it in the behaviors and witness of community, too. We have students who are watching and learning from us.

Pastor gwyn stetler, co-pastor at Jubilee Mennonite Church in Bellefontaine, Ohio, is also executive director of Family Promise of Delaware County, operating Promise House Delaware and Impact Station Marysville. Both sites provide emergency shelter leading to stable housing while building communities and strengthening lives. If you are in a housing crisis, call 740-362-7817 or 937-639-7769, or email [email protected].

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