Interfaith Encounters Day 1: March 17

Day 1 of our Interfaith Encounters Alternative Spring Break was very full!

At 8:00 a.m. we joined Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for worship.

Mother-Bethel-AME_uWe were greeted warmly by the pastoral staff and church members and led into the historic sanctuary. Rev. Lynette Taylor and Rev. Mark Tyler greeted the group and had us stand up to be recognized. The worship service included vibrant music with keyboard, drums, and inspiring vocalists. Even a little dancing!

Towards the end of the service, people offered prayers at the altar with hugs afterwards. And I do mean hugs!

After a scripture reading from both the Hebrew Scriptures [OT] and the New Testament, Rev. Mark Tyler preached a sermon about our memory as people of faith. We forget, Rev. Tyler remarked, that our education and food on the table and our jobs and our blessings in life–are gifts of God. We forget to be grateful and then we forget about others who are shut off from those blessings. He connected losing our memory of God’s blessings to the absurdly high numbers of people in prison compared to the low numbers of people in school. He mentioned the lack of attention paid to those who work at Philadelphia International Aiport who earn less than minimum wage. His message was completely appropriate to kick off the group’s week, because he talked about how remembering our story moves us to action. He even mentioned one of the service-learning partners the group will encounter later on this week: Power.

After the service, the group remained in the sanctuary and Rev. Tyler shared more about Mother Bethel’s faith practices and work in the community. He also answered some questions that students asked. Afterwards, a docent led us downstairs to the Mother Bethel museum where he shared briefly about the history of Mother Bethel and the AME tradition. The students then had plenty of time to walk around the museum and to ask questions of the docents who were present.

mbAMEFollowing the museum tour, we had about 40 minutes to spare. The students wanted to walk towards Independence Hall.

So the group journeyed there in the cold!


SAMSUNGSAMSUNGThen it was time to head to Lawrenceville, NJ and Sikh Sabha.

Kavi Pannu and other community leadership greeted us in front of the gurudwara and directed us to the carpet where we could remove our shoes; they brought us head scarves and explained how the afternoon would proceed.


We were then led inside the gurudwara into the main lobby for an orientation of about 15 minutes. The leadership was so helpful in explaining what would happen inside the prayer space and offered us many tips to keep in mind.

SAMSUNGAfter the orientation, we entered the prayer space—females sat on one side and males on the other. The prayer service was wonderful and included youth and children participating.


After the prayer service, the white cloths were laid down on the carpet and the langar meal began. Students were able to interact with members of the community and to engage in informal conversation.

SAMSUNG SAMSUNGFollowing langar, we were escorted back to the lobby for a Q&A period that lasted just over an hour. The students asked many questions and the Sikh community had 6 leaders [male and female and various ages] present. They all shared very clearly and honestly.

SAMSUNGThe time flew by.

Finally, the group headed back to St. Barbara’s Church for the opening workshop. I led them in a circle introduction of sharing. Then, we participated in two theater games: the machine and you, you, you. The students were enthusiastic. The games helped us to understand the importance of understanding and listening and also the concept of different voices and perspectives working together for the common good. Rev. Nicole Diroff then led an activity about asking good questions—the students formed into 8 different groups. The questions that each group came up with showed their enthusiasm for this work. Finally, we closed with a review of their student packets, and preparation of nametags. Then, I asked the students to think about a particular question they were carrying. Each student wrote his/her question on the flip side of their nametag in order to carry the question with them all week–reflecting on the question as they experienced each day.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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