Everyone has a story, and everyone tells that story differently.
"It's all well and good to say, 'I'm a Christian, you're a Muslim, so we're different,'" Kiva Nice-Webb, director of Westminster's Center for Faith and Service said. "It's much more compelling to talk about why you're different and how you might be surprisingly the same."
That's the theme of an upcoming conference at Westminster College, titled "Pathways: Mobilizing our Stories." The conference runs April 5-6 and is open to the public and people of all faiths and backgrounds. Registration for non-students costs $10, which includes three meals. During registration, note if you'll be there for both days or just one.
Register at bit.ly/WCregister.
The conference will teach attendees about the power of storytelling and how to use one's own story to build connections with others.
"Human beings construct identity in a narrative way," Nice-Webb explained. "It's how you describe who you are, what you're about. Ask different people to tell you their story and they'll talk about their values, one particular experience, an overview of their whole life."
Students from Washington University, Lindenwood University, Truman State University, William Woods University and University of Missouri will be attending the conference.
"We really want high schoolers to come," Nice-Webb said. "They're at an age when they're figuring out who they are. But we'll take literally anyone. It can be beneficial for young folks to hear the stories of their elders."
The two-day conference will include talks from keynote speakers Kelly Isola and Greg Thompson, plus a series of breakout sessions that include time for participants to practice what they've learned in small groups.
Isola is the chair of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, which uses using dialogue, service, storytelling, food, music and more to promote peace and healing. She has a masters of divinity, is a Unity theologian, and teaches for Unity Worldwide Seminary.
"She says she's a global citizen, and she sees storytelling as peace-building," said Lusitania Savio, fellow for intercultural engagement at Westminster.
Thompson is the host of "Out Loud," a podcast where LGBTQ+ people can tell their stories about "faith, community and the divine." He grew up Catholic and is working on a masters in theological studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
"It lets queer Christians (and people of other religions) narrate their life and what's been formative and harmful for them," said Keller Hawkins, Westminster's chaplain resident.
The conference's organizers said they hope it'll help attendees build connections and explore how they think about their own stories.
"Conflict kills curiosity but peace requires it," Hawkins said. "Learning other peoples' stories helps build a peace that's resilient."
Nice-Webb mentioned the conference's topic is especially relevant in the current political climate.
"Being able to display vulnerability and listen well is not a skill we see fore-fronted often," she said. "But we live in a world where people are different from each other."
Student organizing committee member Khaled Khalili noted the conference is truly open to all.
"People hear the phrase 'interfaith conference' and assume it's only for religious people," he said. "That's not the case. Whether you believe in all gods, one god or no gods, this is for you."
Paid for by a grant from the Interfaith Youth Council, this conference is intended to become an annual event, Nice-Webb added.