Young people will have two ways to participate in a popular event that highlights the diversity of the Oklahoma City metro area faith community.

The popular Interfaith Youth Tour returns on Sept. 11 featuring three houses of worship: Temple B’nai Israel, First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City and the Islamic Center of Norman. The tour will be from 1 to 3:30 p.m.

Youths and their adult advisors who choose to gather in person for the tour will do so at Temple B’nai Israel. They will enjoy video tours of the temple and the other two houses of worship. Those who choose to take the virtual tour will visit the trio of houses of worship via Zoom. The tour will be followed by a live question-and-answer time with faith leaders. Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oklahoma chapter, will moderate the Q&A segment and those who gather in person at the temple will be treated to a time of snacks and fellowship.

Cost is $20 for the in-person event, which will include a discussion guide, T-shirt or bag, and $10 for the virtual tour, which will include a discussion guide.

Conference of Churches leaders are encouraging those who take the virtual tour to do so together with their Sunday school classes or youth groups in their own house of worship or another setting where they can take the tour together and have related discussions.

In the past, the tour has included charter buses which take youths and adult sponsors to each site. The tour was virtual only in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this year’s modifications are precautionary measures in light of the virus.

“We were just trying to be creative in how we minimize risk,” said Kat Romero, the conference of churches’ director of operations. “This is what we came up with so we can still gather in person and have that energy and that discussion and have kids from different types of faith communities interact, which is a really important part of these tour.”

Along those lines, Romero said attendees gathering in person will be required to wear masks and seating will be distanced accordingly because the community’s health is extremely important to the organization.

The time for snacks and fellowship will take place outdoors on the temple’s covered patio area. The temple also will provide guests with an opportunity to sit in an adjacent room or outdoor space while they watch what happens in the main room. This is being afforded those who may be uncomfortable gathering in a large crowd due to COVID.

“It’s a nice, beautiful big space so we can still distance,” she said of the main gathering space for the tour. “I think it will be a pretty safe space COVID wise but we’ll still have the opportunity to be together.”

Raising religious awareness

Anne Carter Walker, Ph.D., a member of the conference of churches’ board of directors, said the organization has been uniquely positioned to host the youth tours over the years because of the legacy of interreligious community and cooperation that it has built.

“And I think at the same time, they’ve been uniquely tapped into the need in ministry to expose young people to religious knowledge and awareness and interreligious engagement at a time when it’s really developmentally appropriate to do this work,” she said.

Walker, associate dean of academic and student affairs and director of theological field education at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, said her field is religious education and she does a lot of work around adolescent development and youth ministry. The youth tours are designed for an age group that is ready to have discussions on topics like faith.

“Youth are developmentally ready to have, critical conversations about the depth of their own faith practice and how to engage across religions, when their ability for critical thinking is so fresh, and running on all cylinders,” Walker said.

Thus, she hasn’t been surprised to see the youth tours gain in popularity over time.

“I think young people bring a sort of curiosity to engagement across differences that we don’t necessarily find in adults,” she said. “And that curiosity is sometimes in bringing really honest questions and a sort of open curiosity that is not filtered through decades of socialization into the sort of spaces that we often think religious people need to inhabit.”

Interfaith Youth Tour

When: 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 11.
Where: Temple B’nai Israel, 4901 N Pennsylvania.
Cost: $20 in person, includes discussion guide, T-shirt or bag; $10 for virtual event, includes discussion guide.