December is a time to celebrate holidays, diversity

A group of 12 people stand behind a small tree decorated in lights at night. They are holding lit, battery-operated candles. Behind them is Penn State Health Children's Hospital.Participants in the annual Peace Tree lighting ceremony on the Hershey campus Nov. 5 called for peace, hope, unity, joy and love.

December is a great time to enjoy the holidays and an excellent chance to share in the diversity of Penn State Health and Penn State College of Medicine.

December 7, 2020Penn State Health News

Members of the Penn State Health Capital Region (Dauphin) Interfaith Employee Affinity/Resource Group embrace that idea. The group promotes a culture of understanding and respect among all faiths and belief systems at the College of Medicine and health system. To bring people together, it hosted a virtual interfaith holiday celebration on Thursday, Dec. 10. The idea, said affinity group co-chair Dr. Ayesha Ahmad, was to explore the similarities that bring people together during this festive time.

Ahmad, assistant professor of medicine and geriatrics at the College of Medicine, said with both Christmas and Hanukkah happening in December, it is the perfect time to talk about Christian and Jewish faiths. Throughout next year the group wants to explore aspects of other religions and faith systems, including lesser-known ones, during its planned “Soup and Soul” program, she said. A schedule for the events will be announced in 2021.

Affinity Group Co-chair David Carnish, manager of clinical pastoral education at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, is excited about the December program and how the group wants to help all employees feel included at the health system and College of Medicine.

“The group’s purpose is to recognize, affirm, welcome and celebrate the vast diversity of values and beliefs that make each of our colleagues who they are in their practice of caring for the sick and the promotion of well-being,” said Carnish. “Our interfaith affinity group practices hospitality by focusing on our staff.”

Carnish said the mission of the affinity group is part of the fabric of the health system and College of Medicine.

“Like the first hospital built in approximately 800 CE in Damacus by Muslims and Christians, our interfaith affinity group is, in my opinion, the central peg to the vision of the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center,” said Carnish.

Carnish, who is Baptist, and Ahmad who is Muslim, both say it is important to be open to other faiths and it is OK to be curious about them.

“Religion is an important element of many people’s lives,” said Ahmad. “We should celebrate our commonalities and respect our differences whenever possible.”

Here are some tips to keep in mind about respecting others’ religions in the workplace in December and throughout the year.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask respectful questions of co-workers about their holiday practices.
  • Make sure everyone feels included during the holiday season.
  • During major holidays now and throughout the year make sure not to schedule important meetings or special events on holidays.
  • When we, once again, have in-office celebrations, take into account everyone’s dietary needs, including religious dietary restrictions.
  • Find out the best way to greet a co-worker during December, whether it is Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or, if you are uncertain what to say, wish them Happy Holidays or Happy Year’s End.

Anyone interested in joining the affinity group should email [email protected]. Membership is open to all employees of all backgrounds, including those who identify as having non-religious beliefs.

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