Last year, the Oklahoma Conference of Churches was pleasantly surprised to have the largest turnout ever for its annual Interfaith Youth Tour.
Young people and their adult advisers are invited to tour three metro-area houses of worships on a Sunday afternoon in September. Last year, the tour included the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City's mosque, St. George Greek Orthodox Church and Temple B'nai Israel.
This year's youth tour is Sept. 23. The deadline to register is Sept. 17.
The 2012 tour will include St. John Missionary Baptist Church, Vien-Giac Buddhist Temple and the Baha'i Center of Edmond. The tour is geared for young people in seventh grade and older.
I went along on last year's tour and was impressed by the types of questions the young people asked and how they were so excited to learn more about faith beliefs other than their own.
Several Christian youths visited a mosque for the first time, learning why they were asked to take off their shoes and why the mosque had separate prayer rooms for men and women.
Muslim youths expressed an interest in the ornate symbolism of the Orthodox church sanctuary. Several Christian youths were given an opportunity to touch a sacred Torah scroll at the Jewish temple.
I have been covering the religion beat for a while now, and I still learned much about each of the faiths and congregations represented during the tour.
The Rev. William Tabernee, the Oklahoma Conference of Churches' executive director, summed up the tour's premise when I asked him about it at the 2011 event.
“It's healthy to both educate and break down stereotypes so people understand the diversity of religion rather than simply be afraid of what is different,” he said.