Davis & Elkins College will present a panel discussion titled “Interfaith Appalachia: Faith and Justice in the Mountain State” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 1 in Myles Center for the Arts. Sponsored by the Morrison-Novakovic Center for Faith and Public Policy, the event will feature speakers discussing themes from their religious traditions and consider points of commonality.
The panel will be comprised of Rabbi Victor Urecki from the B’nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston, Ibtesam Barazi of the Islamic Association of West Virginia and Davis & Elkins College Benfield-Vick Chaplain the Rev. Laura Brekke Wagoner.
“Religious plurality is a sociological reality, but also an opportunity to confront past injustices and to plot shared futures,” said Dr. Bryan Wagoner, associate professor of religious studies and philosophy, and director of the Morrison-Novakovic Center for Faith and Public Policy. “Through dialogue, we often come to find the things that unite us are far greater than those that divide us. Rabbi Victor, Ibtesam and Rev. Laura’s conversation will consider some points of unity, and I hope the campus community will embrace this opportunity to learn from adherents of the three Abrahamic traditions.”
Urecki has served as rabbi and spiritual leader of B’nai Jacob Synagogue since 1986. A member of the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as the Chicago Board of Rabbis, he is also on the Executive Rabbinical Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, the largest Jewish philanthropic organization in the world. He serves on National Council of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and on the board of directors at the University of Charleston. He was the 2011 recipient of the “Living the Dream Award” for his work on interfaith relations and the 2014 West Virginia Civil Rights Award recipient.
Urecki is a contributing editor to the Charleston Gazette, writing frequently about religious tolerance and mutual respect. He has devoted his career to teaching the importance of religious openness, embracing the similarities and finding strength in differences. He co-founded Root and the Branch, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for faith traditions in the Kanawha Valley to come together, dialogue and learn from one other. Through Root and the Branch and his involvement in interfaith activities, Urecki lectures regularly at area churches and schools on Jewish/Christian relations and Muslim/ Jewish understanding.
Barazi is vice president of the Islamic Association of West Virginia and president of the West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry Board of Directors. Since retiring as assistant area director with the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, she has been working as a humanitarian civil rights activist through the interfaith community. With a mission to spread peace and understanding in the greater Charleston diverse community, her efforts focus on removing barriers of fear and misconception about immigrants, specifically Muslim Americans, and their contribution to the United States. She received the ACLU’s West Virginia 2018 Champion for Justice Award, the Governor’ 14th Annual Civil Rights Award for Humanitarian Work in 2017 and the Healthy Kids and Families Coalition West Virginian of the Year Award in 2017.
Brekke-Wagoner was ordained in 2014 as a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In 2017, she was installed as the Benfield-Vick Chaplain at D&E where she guides the student-led Chapel Leadership Team, facilitates religious services and organizes community engagement projects.
She also is a member of the adjunct faculty in religion at D&E. Previously, Brekke Wagoner was director of religious diversity at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, and interim supply pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Livingston, Alabama.
The panel is the second in a series sponsored by the Morrison-Novakovic Center for Faith and Public Policy this spring that focus on themes of democracy and faith. All are free and open to the public. Masks and social distancing are required.
For additional information, email Wagoner at email@example.com.