Their faith is woven into their work as nonprofit professionals, volunteers, board members, organizers, artists and activists.
They represent Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Hare Krishna, and Christian traditions, the latter including the Episcopal Church, the Latter-Day Saints, Christian Science and other denominations.
Fifty young people ages 24 to 35 living and working in the greater Los Angeles area make up the Future50, a cohort of rising young religious leaders, lay and ordained, who are engaged in social justice issues and committed to religious pluralism.
Under the joint auspices of the Interreligious Council of Los Angeles (IRC) and the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC), the “cohorts” will network together and build bridges of understanding to ultimately strengthen the region.
Shawn Evelyn, 33, chair of the program group on youth and young adult ministries for the Diocese of Los Angeles, is one of four Episcopalians included in the Future50.
“There are a lot of opportunities for ecumenical and interfaith work throughout the city and there is a community seeming to develop from this group. I look forward to seeing how their ministries are working,” said Evelyn, who attends St. Philip’s Church, Los Angeles, and is discerning a call to ministry. “This is a brand new initiative. We’re all learning together.”
The group is “creating its own vision, which has potential and promise” around social justice issues, Evelyn said. “We feel social justice work is needed, creating different pockets of interfaith social justice groups to take action in their own ways. It is exciting. It’s an honor to be included.”
“Working with the Future50 and experiencing their vitality and joy is energizing and a privilege,” said Canon Robert Williams, an IRC vice president representing the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, and a co-chair of the Future50 program. “Sharing with the cohort members, I know with confidence that interfaith relationships are in very good hands for the next generation, especially in Southern California.”
The greater Los Angeles area is home to almost 10,000 congregations across the spectrum of traditions and denominations, all facing the same challenges, such as climate change and cultural and immigration shifts. The innovative Future50 cohort attempts to anticipate those needs and develop multi-faith networks of like-minded individuals to help address them.
Serving as a “Future50” mentor brings the Rev. Francisco Garcia full circle.
“I came to this community more than 10 years ago and was formed here at All Saints, Pasadena. Interfaith has always been at the core of this community as a peace and justice church; it really spoke to me,” Garcia, 35, director of peace and justice ministries at All Saints Church, told the Episcopal News.
“There has been a sea change in how people understand, articulate and live their religion in the public sphere,” said Brie Loskota, CRCC’s managing director. “At least among younger community leaders, interacting with people who are ‘other’ seems more natural, which in turn suggests that we are looking at the beginning of a new way of doing ‘interfaith’ — or perhaps better, ‘multifaith’ work.”
In the coming months, cohort members and the IRC will build connections and strengthen ties among faith traditions, and forge a bond between seasoned and emerging generations.
‘Faith organically unites people’
For Jyotswaroop Kaur, 34, joining the cohort is a natural extension of her faith and her work.
“As a Future50 leader, I am bringing the perspective of the Sikh community, the fifth largest religion in the world. Sikh Americans, who have been part of this country for 125 years, believe in service to the community,” she said in an email to the Episcopal News. “I believe that faith organically unites people and when you are trying to build community coalitions, it’s only natural that we need to work in an interreligious setting.”
As director of education at the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) Kaur teaches Sikh Americans how to build relationships with politicians, law enforcement, activists, educators and community members, as well as leadership development and cultural sensitivity involving the law enforcement community.
She noted that Sikhs believe “in equality across genders, race, and class.
“The three most basic principles of Sikhism that you are first taught as a child are that a Sikh should, in their daily life: remember God and that God connects all of humanity, the importance of honest work, and the importance of giving to others—which are also American values.
“I want to share these Sikh values and tell people about how they inform our work,” she said. Using these values, I hope to connect with other faith communities so that we can work cohesively, and build a tighter knit peaceful multi-faith group of activists who can then use their backgrounds and philosophy to educate a broader audience and fight injustice peacefully.”
21st century religion equals interreligious work
When he heard about the Future50, the Rev. Nathaniel Katz “knew it was a group I just had to be a part of, from the very beginning.”
“All Saints, Pasadena, was my sponsoring parish and it was how I came into the Episcopal Church and it was there I became acquainted with the phrase ‘to be religious in the 21st century is to be interreligious,’” he told the Episcopal News.
“That has framed how I’ve thought about my life as a person of faith and continues in my ideas of what it means to be ordained,” said Katz, 34, director of communications at the Claremont School of Theology, and recently ordained a priest.
“In a place like Southern California, as richly diverse as it is, there is no way to live out life in our world and not be interested and engaged in interfaith work,” he added. “It’s just the reality of our life. It’s something I love about being here and why I choose to make it my home.”
Katz also assists at Holy Spirit Fellowship in Silver Lake and helps operate a Laundry Love ministry in East Hollywood.
And while the relatively new ‘Future50’ “is wisely still in the process of formation (because) its organizers left it open for definition for those of us who will come into the cohort … my real hope is that this becomes a means to connect with and find working partners in problem-solving for our communities in Southern California,” he said.
Cohort members are all committed to the ideal that “our faith motivates us to engage with challenges and problems in our community,” added Katz, a Claremont resident.
“More than anything, I’m looking for creative partners in figuring out how to live out God’s love in the world, make our communities better, and to do that more together than separately.”
‘Differences as fun and creativity, not fear and misunderstanding’
Belonging to the Future50 will offer, for Tasneem Noor, founder of Noor Enterprises, SOULfulTranformation, “a structure to go about putting my vision into action.”
A Cal State Los Angeles leadership development and diversity training professional the past five years, Noor, 30, recently “came to a point where I knew I was ready for the next growth and bigger way of serving the community. I left my job so I could have the time and freedom to implement it.”
She plans to develop interfaith diversity training, “reaching out to university campuses that already have diversity programs but that are not addressing religious and nonreligious identities,” said Noor, who is Muslim.
“I am looking to create more spaces on university campuses where students are having these dialogues,” she said. “Having been part of a college campus and talking to hundreds of students, I saw the need for it and students have the willingness and desire to engage in this type of work and self-discovery with their peers.
“It’s all about creating safe spaces for people to come together, to see how they can relate to one another in spite of differences, to see where differences can be a source of fun and creativity, instead of a place of fear and misunderstanding.”
Being part “of the Future50 space allows me to voice my ideas, get feedback, hear new ideas and have that support that anyone would want as they are starting a new phase of their lives … we have a great vibe going on,” she said.
She anticipates learning from those with experience, like the IRC, who made the opportunity available and with mentors who will work with “young folks who want to engage in interfaith work and give back to the community to create spaces for us and to encourage us to actually do it.”
For Garcia, “it’s important that we continue to form people of all faiths who are really engaged and who speak from their own tradition, but who are always connecting and looking outward and breaking down boundaries between the different faiths.
“That’s our call, to do justice work, and to be compassionate in the world, to really share those commonalities, to bring our faith to the table … what compels us all to act and be in the world as we should be, to work for peace and reconciliation.”
Other “Future50” Episcopalians include the Rev. Nancy Frausto, associate rector and priest-in-charge of St. Mary’s, Mariposa and Trinity, Melrose, churches; and Albert Giang, a Pasadena lawyer attending All Saints Church there.
To learn more about the Future50 initiative, visit crcc.usc.edu/initiatives/future50.