Taking part in an ecumenical discussion or interfaith project can enrich your faith.
At least that is what the Rev. David Witkovsky, chaplain at Juniata College in Huntingdon since 1999, has discovered.
Witkovsky, previously a pastor at Williamsburg and Roaring Spring Churches of the Brethren, will speak on "Why Christians Care about Ecumenism and Interfaith Work" at the annual dinner of the Ecumenical Conference of Greater Altoona. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. May 31 at First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg. Cost is $15, and reservations are due by May 24.
Witkovsky said working with students of all faiths and various Christian denominations on campus has made him take a deeper look at what he believes and his perceptions about other beliefs.
He said that ecumenical and interfaith events provide an opportunity to know people whose religion or beliefs are different from one's own and create an appreciation for those people.
Working with others can dispel the stereotypes, he said. Witkovsky gave the example of some Americans believing Muslims are terrorists.
"The three [Muslim] people working with me at the food bank are not terrorists," he said.
To dispel misconceptions about other faiths, the campus ministry at Juniata provides opportunities for programs and projects where students of different faiths come together.
He said ecumenism can make a Christian realize what he or she has in common with other denominations and faiths and what is distinctive about their beliefs. There should be an appreciation for the differences that all religions bring to the table and dialogue can make one more articulate about his or her faith, Witkovsky said.
Students with different Christian denominations or religions work hand-in-hand at a food bank and soup kitchen in Huntingdon. They can also take part in a spring break project. In the past, students have taken trips to Gulf states to help people rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"Working alongside each other develops mutual respect and genuine relationships," Witkovsky said. "It humanizes others to work with them."
He said, "Scripture tells Christians to care for those who are different from us, and specific Scriptures say to care for the fatherless and the widows."
He said hospitality is an important part of Christianity.
At the dinner, the Most Rev. Joseph V. Adamec, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, will receive the 2011 Ecumenism Award for his work with the Altoona Area Christian Coalition.
Adamec was a driving force in establishing the coalition in 2006 and made it a priority to attend its monthly meetings, said Tony DeGol, secretary of communications for the diocese. The coalition is an ecumenical group that works to ensure justice and mercy and is committed toward a community that is welcoming and hospitable.
Various Christian denominations formed the coalition in response to an Altoona ordinance about penalizing undocumented immigrants who lived or worked in the city. DeGol said Adamec was concerned about how the ordinance would affect families and their children.
Adamec said he was humbled and honored by the decision to present him with the award.
Cindy Baney of the Ecumenical Conference said the dinner is held to raise awareness that the New Testament commands Christians to be one and that "our differences are miniscule in comparison to our commonalities." She said it also recognizes people who work within those commonalities in ways that benefit others.
In addition to the dinner, the conference holds a service for the International Day of Prayer for Peace, a week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January and religious education classes for mentally challenged students. It also offers a summer series through its Interfaith Committee.