A Discussion Group of the National Storytelling Network

Story Circles
Children at the Well

Stories Build Links of Faith, Albany, NY

Originally published in The Times Union, March 17, 2007.

By Adah Hetko

Once upon a time, not very long ago, there lived an 11-year-old girl named Adah.

One day, she went with her mom to an interfaith women's dinner. They happened to sit next to the leader of an Interfaith Story Circle, who invited them to their next meeting.

They went, but it was mostly older people, and Adah felt out of place. Even so, she was enchanted by the stories and when the meeting was closing, she didn't want the magic to end. She told two stories that she had heard at Hebrew school. She was nervous at first but really liked it when everyone laughed at the funny parts. This new world of storytelling brought Adah back to the story circle again and again. Adah has been telling stories very happily ever after.

Now I, Adah, am 15 years old and committed to the mission of the Interfaith Story Circle, which is to spiritually connect with people of all faiths and cultures. This group has been meeting for over 10 years, sharing stories and personal tales from a variety of religious traditions. For four years, I have been the only young performer at the annual Winter Lights Telling.

"Storytelling is a way for people to find common connections," said Muhammad Kabir, a former principal of An Nur Islamic School in Schenectady. "Who can think of a better way to transform the future than by building bridges within the next generation?"

We wanted to involve more kids. A few members of the story circle worked on a proposal for a program they called Children at the Well. It won the 2006 Brimstone Award from the National Storytelling Network. Last year, along with 12 other kids who were Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, I was coached by two professional storytellers. We worked to learn stories from our own faiths that we connected to and wanted to share with others. Our audience was captivated by an array of inspiring stories told in an entertaining and skillful way.

The stories, along with a performance by a Hindu story-dancer, an interfaith mixer and potluck dinner, allowed us to discover the community around us by way of cultures, tastes and talents not usually shared with one another.

Through my friends from Children at the Well, I have connected to so many different countries, cultures, times and beliefs. I feel as if I've been on a pilgrimage to Mecca, had a conversation with a scholar in New Delhi and met St. Francis of Assisi.

So much unites us. Talking to other kids in the program, I realized how similar a nun's habit is to a Muslim woman's head scarf, or a Christian baptism is to a Jewish mikva. While current events threaten to make us distrustful of those with whom we share this world, I feel very strongly that it is important for people to distinguish between those who truly practice a religious belief and those who warp it into a political tool.

Sharing our stories can help us to do this -- to understand one another and to be a true community. As a result of Children at the Well, I now have friends my age and younger who have compassion for and want to connect with people of other faiths. I am happy to invite you to join us in our mission of peace and friendship between people of different religions. One way you can do this is by coming to our second Children at the Well performance and potluck at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at the Niskayuna Reformed Church, 3041 Troy Schenectady Road. All are welcome. I hope to see you there.

Adah Hetko is a sophomore at Shaker High School in Colonie and belongs to Congregation Beth Shalom in Clifton Park.

For information on Children at the Well, go to www.Interfaithstory.org or e-mail Gert Johnson at grsjohnson@aol.com