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Concern about Muslims leads to interfaith commitment and action

To meet needs of homeless men and women, provide school supplies and pool information on needs and services, representatives of 35 congregations and 10 agencies in King County east of Lake Washington meet monthly as the East Side Interfaith Social Concerns Council.

Lloyd Van Vactor
Lloyd Van Vactor leads East Side Interfaith Social Concerns Council and urges gathering with people of other faiths.

After 27 years in the Philippines with national UCC global ministries, including several months as a hostage of a Muslim group, the Rev. Lloyd Van Vactor wants to continue to find ways to strengthen interfaith relationships, particularly with Muslims.

He is concerned about increasing Islamophobia and believes the way to counter it is for Christians to exert a special effort to understand Islam and strengthen relationships with their Muslim brothers and sisters in their communities.

We need to have gatherings for discussions, to invite Muslims in the community to come to gatherings so we can talk and learn what we have in common,” he said, adding a reminder from a Muslim friend at Microsoft of a quote that “we need to see the face of God/Allah everywhere we turn.”

Dislike is based on ignorance,” said Van Vactor, who studied about Islam before he went to Dansalan College, where many students were Muslims.  He went with an openness to that would foster interest in people learning about one another’s faiths so they could discover what they have in common.

When he retired 18 years ago, after serving 11 years with One Great Hour of Sharing in New York City, he and his wife Myrna settled in Woodinville, near where his sons live.

For 16 years, he has represented Northshore UCC the East Side Interfaith Social Concerns Council.  He now co-chairs the council.

Participating congregations are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Unitarian and Jewish in Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Northshore and east King County.  There had been a Muslim representative until that person went back to school.

Van Vactor continues to meet with a few Muslims in the area to share ideas and concerns, and about five years ago helped Northshore UCC create a Pillar of Faith on its lawn as a symbol of the need to bring Christians and Muslims together.

He said Muslims who spoke at the dedication have spoken around the world about the pillar, but his contacts have been more limited than he hoped.

At each monthly meeting of the council, representatives of congregations and organizations share information and recruit volunteers, said Van Vactor, impressed with the number of programs available for area communities.

Based on what the faiths have in common, the council sponsors three projects:  1) Congregations for the Homeless, a shelter for men; 2) Sophia Way, a shelter for women, and 3) Congregations for Kids, raising funds for school supplies and backpacks for nearly 1,500 children during the year.

“We have much cooperation in work for the homeless and good response to providing meals, food and funding when requests are made,” he said.

The Congregations for the Homeless program shelters up to 50 men, sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor, in about 10 congregations for one month at a time.  Beyond the host churches, other congregations provide an evening meal.

The program has a portable trailer with a shower and laundry facility that moves as the location changes.  The men use sleeping bags and sleep on the floor.  The sleeping bags and belongings are locked in trailer when they go out to access services, find jobs and go to work.

Congregations for the Homeless helps men move out into permanent housing with subsidized rent and life coaches, said Van Vactor.

Sophia Way operates in a similar way for about eight single women.  First Congregational UCC in Bellevue started the program and provides shelter year round on weekday evenings for up to eight women.  On women, the women move to different congregations.

Last year, 50 women moved into subsidized housing, 12 at a time, he said.

The number of homeless fluctuates, said Van Vactor, who until two years ago served as an on-call chaplain at two area hospitals.  For a while, the number of homeless was down, but now the programs are operating up to capacity.

For information, call 425-885-6993.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © September-October 2010





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