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 the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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