How do all these religions fit together?

Champlin group endeavors to open hearts, minds to intercultural and spiritual understanding

Pictured from front to back are members of the NISE Advisory Board. Kay Roberts, Amy Lee, Tasneem Rattansi and Sally Higgins. Additional members (not pictured) include: Kerry Nyland, Beth Artmann, Abir Majid and Swalaha Karim.
Pictured from front to back are members of the NISE Advisory Board. Kay Roberts, Amy Lee, Tasneem Rattansi and Sally Higgins. Additional members (not pictured) include: Kerry Nyland, Beth Artmann, Abir Majid and Swalaha Karim.

Some people may feel uncomfortable if a perfect stranger walked up to them in the grocery store and started asking about their religious and spiritual beliefs. But for Champlin residents Kay Roberts, who did the asking just over a year ago and Tasneem Rattansi, whom she approached, that moment of curiosity and stepping outside the box sparked more than a friendship. It was one of the many seeds planted that has grown into the fledgling Northern Intercultural Spiritual Experiences (NISE) group that is now entering its second year of programming. It is a group that attempts to open lines of communication between a diverse population and help explore multiple different religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs.

“I had the desire to be in conversation about what we have in common with others and to learn from them,” said Roberts who is a Christian attending Champlin United Methodist Church. She had already begun expanding her spiritual horizons while discussing faith with her neighbor Amy Lee, who is a Baha’i. The Baha’i faith emphasizes the spiritual unity of all mankind viewing divine messengers as establishing religion that was suited to the needs of the time and capacity of the people.  These messengers have included Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and most recently Baha’u’llah. While not as commonly heard of as other religions, it is considered to be one of the world’s fastest growing religions.

Rattansi is a Muslim practicing the Islamic faith. Hers is a faith that she says has often been misunderstood, particularly since 9/11. Having experienced moments when people have responded to her in fear simply by identifying her from her traditional form of dress, Rattansi welcomed Roberts’ interest in learning more about her and her faith.

“How can you love [or not love] your neighbor if you don’t even know them?” Rattansi asks as she accepted Roberts’ suggestion to join NISE’s advisory board. The board is comprised of 8 individuals. Currently three are Christian, two are Bahai’ and two are Muslim.

The group was created to provide intercultural and spiritual experiences through presentations, conversations and the arts in an effort to unify the community. Last year, the group found its footing by trying different things.

“At first we thought we’d meet at different locations for example, one month at the mosque and another at the church,” said Roberts. “But we found that some people were hesitant.”

Then Champlin United Methodist offered the continued use of space in their building for meetings and events.

“Many people are grateful that there’s a Christian body out there willing to do this,” said Roberts.

The group did visit the Ja’afari Islamic Center in Brooklyn Park during a 9/11 event and during Ramadan.

“We received amazing hospitality,” said Roberts.

Board member Sally Higgins, who identifies herself as Christian, was impressed with the Muslim speaker who focused on the topic, “Love God, Do Good.”

“It all comes down to helping those in need and loving your neighbor,” said Higgins. “It’s the human side of religious beliefs that gets in the way sometimes.”

Some of the events they plan to repeat are a conversational fall series entitled, “Christianity in Context: I don’t even know my neighbors. How do I love them?” Champlin United Methodist’s Rev. Rachel McIver Morey will spearhead the discussion on what it means to be Christian in a world with many belief systems. The talks include roundtable discussion by the participants who are usually at a table with individuals of various spiritual beliefs. Last year they held presentations on Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Baha’i.

The group is all-inclusive, having welcomed individuals of many faiths and spiritual beliefs, including agnostics and atheists.

“It’s a loving experience that allows you to ask ‘what can we can from reflecting on this?’” said Roberts. “It causes people the chance to pause.”

Another centerpiece of the group’s plans for the rest of 2012 includes producing a theatrical show call, “So Kiss Me Already, Herschel Gertz!”

The group received a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council through the state’s arts and cultural heritage fund. The show will be staged Oct. 12 and 13.

For someone who may be a little fearful or even concerned that opening up their heart or mind to learning about other religions may cause them to falter in their own faith, Roberts says it actually has had the opposite effect. She says in order to answer questions other may have about her own beliefs, she has spent more time reflecting on them which has strengthened her faith.

“I’ve studied more about my own faith to go deeper and understand why we believe what we believe,” said Roberts. “It has not changed my faith but changed my understanding of how big God is.”


— For more information about NISE and their events, check out the Champlin Dayton Press calendar section or contact Kay Roberts at [email protected] or 763-576-0325.