March 23, 2013
On Friday, our first visit was to the Arch Street Friends House in Philadelphia’s historic district.
The Society of Friends, called Quakers by their critics, grew out of the teachings of George Fox in England, in the seventeenth century. William Penn, a disciple of Fox, founded Philadelphia as a haven for his persecuted co-religionists. His “Holy Experiment” was to build a society according to Quaker ideals: the absolute right of conscience, the equality of man, and nonviolence.
After viewing the exhibits and displays, the group learned about history, faith practice, politics, and community through the stories of the two tour guides. We even laughed quite a bit!
After lunch, the group passed Temple University and journeyed up Broad Street to find the Church of the Advocate.
This faith community is made up of many people who come for worship; some come for social services; some come to volunteer; some come for events; some are just connected. The Advocate lives the gospel of Christ and is a welcoming community dedicated to spiritual enrichment, human services, community programs and the pursuit of social justice.
The moment we entered the Gothic sanctuary, the artwork took our breath away.This historic church contains many paintings based on the Bible and the Black experience in the United States. Walter Edmunds was the artist and poet of these amazing works.
We were fortunate to have a member of Advocate’s community give us a tour of the sanctuary, explaining the murals and sharing his stories and thoughts.
The images were striking and the parallels to today–frightening.
Most certainly, it made an impact.
After the tour, the group learned about the Advocate’s meal program for anyone who walks through the door. They serve an average of 1,000 people each month, Monday- Friday. The chef and volunteers in the kitchen loved telling their story and were incredibly enthusiastic about the work. This community opens their doors because there is great need. They rely on donations to make this happen. They welcome people of all faiths or no faith to share a hot meal and good conversation.
The gentleman who gave us the tour of the artwork also put the students to work. They cleaned the historic sanctuary [which was quite cold that day!] and certainly seemed to have fun doing it.
Finally, on Friday evening the group journeyed to the Baha’i Center of Philadelphia.
Some of their fundamental beliefs include:
1. The oneness of God
2. The oneness of religion
3. All humanity is one family
4. All prejudice — racial, religious, national and economic — is destructive and must be overcome
5. Women are equal
6. Science and religion are in harmony
7. Our economic problems are linked to spiritual problems
8. The family and its unity are very important
9. World peace is the crying need of our time
The roots of the religion are in Iran [Persia], but the Bahá’ís are an extremely diverse community of people from around the world.
We were welcomed into the Center to enjoy food hospitality and a devotional service. Afterwards, members of the community shared stories and information about their faith practices. Kambeze Etemad shared a presentation with the group and led an extensive Q&A session.
As it has been all week, very significant and meaningful conversations and connections took place over a meal and during fellowship times. Oh, and there was a piano, too…