Interfaith Encounters Day 1


This week, and part of next week, I will be participating in the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia’s Interfaith Encounter Alternative Break program.

Students from Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College will journey with Walter Hjelt Sullivan, Haverford’s Director of Quaker Affairs; Vanessa Christman, Bryn Mawr’s Assistant Dean of the College and Director of Leadership and Community Development; Joyce Thompkins, Swarthmore College’s Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community; Rabbi Michael Ramberg, a teacher and community organizer; and me.


On Wednesday and Thursday, students and staff from the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech will join us.

We have many hopes for this week; perhaps we all are excited to:

  • Visit & interact with 7 different religious communities [Jewish, Coptic Christian, Sikh, Quaker, Won Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim].
  • Engage in service-learning work with 4 different organizations.
  • Learn about and from each other as we participate in interfaith workshops and reflection.

Most of all, we will encounter unique cultural and religious communities and unique, justice-seeking organizations that are seeking cooperation for the common good.

We will meet people and hear their stories.

We just might learn more about our own stories, too.


First off, we went through an orientation together to get ready for the week–going over details of transportation, meals, etc. It is a full week indeed.

Then, we participated in an opening workshop about asking good questions. We discussed two types of questions:

1. Curious Questions

2. Judgmental Questions

The students gave examples of each and came up with adjectives to describe each type of question.
We hope to carry this with us all week as we seek to be respectful and humble as guests in each unique community–building bridges of understanding and trust and removing any barriers of misunderstanding or prejudice.

After that, the students formed a human machine and found creative ways to be both unique and cooperative [in relation with one another].

Finally, after dinner, Rabbi Michael led us in a Havdalah service.
havdalahHavdalah marks the end of Shabbat for those of the Jewish tradition. Shabbat begins on Friday at sundown. Havdalah is performed no earlier than nightfall on Saturday night. There were three basic elements that Rabbi Michael used for the ritual: a glass of wine [or as he mentioned, it could be another liquid]; some fragrant spices; and a special candle.

He walked us through some of the meaning behind this service and we read some parts of the creation story in the Torah.

He taught us a tune to sing some of the Havdalah blessings in Hebrew. One of the students held the candle as it dripped wax and we continued to sing.

At the service’s conclusion, Rabbi Michael said Shavua Tov (a good week) and we responded in kind.
Then, students asked some questions about Jewish practice in general and also about the Torah.

It was a fitting way to begin our good week!

I greatly look forward to Sunday…won’t you join us on our journey?


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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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