Something that makes Fresno a unique place for me is its faith communities. I'm not just talking about the fact that you can find a church on every corner in some parts of North Fresno, either.
One of the things that I hear a lot from out of towners is the assertion that Fresno is the Bible Belt of California, and maybe we are, but I don't see that as a negative thing like their tone of voice implies. We have soul and spirit and faith. We have a huge cultural mix, which means that our collective religious environment is influenced by many backgrounds, styles of worship, religious practices and opportunities for spiritual enrichment. For the most part, these faith communities all get along and work together to make Fresno a better place. I worked at The Big Red Church for about 5 years and I saw a lot of this interdenominational and interfaith cooperation firsthand.
One look at the Church World Service CROP WALK Fresno page will tell you that multiple congregations come together for this annual walk to combat hunger and poverty. Every year it is hosted by a different congregation, past walks have been hosted by Memorial United Methodist, Islamic Cultural Center, United Christian Church and Westside Church of God. Click the links, I dare ya, you'll see four very different congregations- and those are just the hosts for the last 4 years!
Another collaboration of note between churches is Fresno Metro Ministry. From their website, FMM "is an ecumenical and interfaith non-profit engaged in community problem-solving, advocacy and community organizing around several primary community issues." Fresno Metro Ministries is very active in nutrition education and obesity prevention, cleaning up the air, and making sure that the city of Fresno is using its land wisely. Pretty cool stuff for a bunch of church people, if you ask me.
One of my favorite faith-based organizations is Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, or FIRM. FIRM helps refugees make Fresno their new home by providing employment services, working with the elders to help them pass the US citizenship test, advocacy and even community gardening. They work with 6,500+ Southeast Asian, Slavic and African refugees in the Fresno area annually. Its very cool to see everything a small non-profit is able to do in our community. I highly recommend volunteering some time or donating to FIRM, they're an absolutely amazing example of what our church communities can accomplish when they work together.
The youth of our city are also proving that getting along and celebrating diversity in Faith is possible with the Interfaith Youth Alliance. Coming up on January 23rd is their Concert for Unity, which will give patrons a chance to experience sacred music from Sufi, Hebrew and Christian traditions while supporting IFYA. Bullard, Hoover and Clovis East high schools even have interfaith clubs.
One more thing that happens every year that pulls in people from all over the Fresno faith map is coming up at the end of this month. The annual Taize Prayer Weekend is January 29th and 30th at University Presbyterian Church. If you've never heard of Taize, its a style of worship that comes out of the Taize monastic community in France. The music is simple and repetitive so that one can sink deeply into it and find a peaceful place to engage in prayer. Its a very different experience and one that is restorative and inspiring, and its pretty rad that here in Fresno we have a group of people who are passionate about sharing it.
For those of you reading this and going "Yawn, I'm not into fiction" Fresno has a, well, not faith community, but you know... a community for you too! Central Valley Alliance of Athiests and Skeptics is a group of people who, "believe that human rights and ethical questions are best examined from a human perspective, and that morality makes better sense when it is based upon empathy and sympathy for others instead of being based on blind religious dogma." (from the CVAAS website.) I appreciate that there is a secular group of people who are asking those questions and working together within our community, promoting a more positive view of Atheism. For many, Atheism is an important part of who they are and how they identify themselves, its great that there is a community to share that with.
As you can tell by the super extendo blog length, I've touched on one of my greatest passions, and one of the main things I love about living in Fresno.
(Photo by Frank Saxton of Earth Prayers, local photographer-philosopher.)
(I really really wanted to use the phrase "Fresno is a place to get your God on" as the title, but I refrained as some might find it offensive, even though it CLEARLY is awesome. So I'm putting it down here because no one ever reads the crap in the parentheses anyway.)