Faith has always been an important part of the mission and programming of the University YMCA of the University of Illinois. The ways in which faith has been engaged and embraced have changed and evolved over time. Now the oldest nonprofit organization in Champaign County, the Y has become a hub for student-led initiatives and community engagement around issues of faith, ethics, justice and equity as well as environmental activism and cross-cultural understanding.
The campus Religious Workers Association, established by the Y decades ago, currently includes campus ministry professionals from across the spectrum of religious faith working together to further understanding and cooperation and to collaborate on issues of common concern. The RWA is a uniquely diverse and well-organized consortium of campus ministries, in which the Y continues to play a strong leadership role. In 2008, staff proposed and the University YMCA's Board of Governors approved a set of new program initiatives, including Faith and Justice as a point of emphasis for our programming.
Recognizing that for many people their faith calls them to service to others and work for justice, Y staff work to generate programs which connect faith with justice issues, organize reading/discussion groups, and collaborate with university and community partners to create and promote both meaningful dialog and effective action.
The Y's building is often used to host to interfaith action projects, as an example a Faithful Friends event organized near Thanksgiving brought members of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian congregations together to package meals for families in our community.
Y staff are actively engaged in the local Immigration Forum, and have been instrumental in convening the Faith Allies who are working to organize local congregations to participate in Immigration Justice Month for the month of October, raising awareness of issues of immigration justice and finding commonalities in faith traditions' call for fairness and hospitality. The Y is recognized as a safe, thoughtful interfaith space by both campus and community members.
Following the tragic events of 911, the Y was an essential gathering place to talk, process and pray for students and faculty of all faiths. As recently as this summer the Y was the site for an interfaith vigil in response to religious violence in Wisconsin and Missouri. Speakers, students and other participants were drawn from local Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Ba'hai and Christian communities. Much of the Y's mission and action is accomplished by the different 13 registered student organizations housed at the Y's accommodating facility.
Prominent among these is Interfaith in Action, the local chapter of the nationally recognized Interfaith Youth Corps, founded by Illinois alumnus Eboo Patel. Y staff collaborated with Interfaith in Action, a variety of other campus ministries, and units within the university on the year-long President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Challenge for the 2011-2012 academic year. The Challenge culminated in the Illinois Conference on Interfaith Collaboration, held on campus in the spring semester, which drew students and staff from across the Midwest for the first ever conference of it's kind. The project was responsible for bringing to campus Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and a prominent Christian voice for justice and advocacy. Wallis addressed a gathering of friends and supporters of the Y prior to his keynote address to the conference. Monthly Interfaith Service Dialogs continue to draw diverse, dynamic audiences to consider topics where faith, service, and justice intersect.