Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for January, 2015

Interfaith Encounters Day 7

Our last time together was spent at the Germantown Jewish Centre.


We had a bit of an orientation on Friday with Rabbi Reena and therefore were somewhat familiar with the building and what to expect in the morning Shabbat service.


This particular day was important to this community, as they were remembering and honoring an individual who worked for many years as the building maintenance manager. Though he was a Christian, this Jewish community considered him “one of theirs” and he was especially beloved.

Also, the synagogue community was preparing for a panel on racial justice and conversation related to the life and example of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


After hearing Hebrew prayers and watching the Torah scroll make its entrance and exit, it was time for the Alvernia group to go back to school.

It was an outstanding week of learning, interacting, and questioning.

I was impressed with the students’ curiosity and willingness to stretch their comfort zones. I was also very grateful for the enthusiasm and leadership of Brian, their campus ministry leader.

I am sure this week will continue to shape me for a long time.

Thanks for journeying with us!


Interfaith Encounters Day 6

Our Friday began with a visit to the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge.

Uncontroversial Mosque

We were greeted warmly by members of their community and also their Imam. We met in the original, smaller building where Muslims first gathered to pray and organize before they were able to build the current structure you see above.

This Muslim community is unique in that they share property and space with both a Baptist church and a Jewish community. This demonstrates their desire for both cooperation and also their work to dispel the various stereotypes that exist about the religion of Islam.

As the Imam said to all of us, it is best always to go to the source of each religious tradition in order to really understand. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Qur’an in whichever language you speak. Read it and then explore further by contacting either a local mosque or simply engage in conversation with Muslims where you live. This is the best way to learn and to cooperate!

Back to our experience….

We had some time to hear from the various members [male and female] of their community as they shared their perspectives on Islam and how they live out their faith. The Alvernia students asked some good questions.

Then, it was time for Jumu’ah prayer.

Jumu’ah [jum`ah, Arabic, ṣalāt al-jum`ah] means “Friday prayer” and is a congregational prayer that Muslims hold every Friday, just after noon.

Uncontroversial Mosque

We entered the prayer space and sat down close to the others who had already begun to listen to the Imam give his message. As the members of their community explained, females and males enter at different sides of the prayer space and sit separately in the same room. This is for reasons of modesty and also of respect for the mosque as a “house of Allah.”

During this gathering, we heard various remarks about the Qur’an from the Imam, related to the peacemaking and mercy-seeking that is required of all Muslims. He even made reference to Jesus [Isa] at various points in his message.

My favorite part is the end of the Friday prayers, a congregational rakat [rak’ah].

It is a powerful moment to be welcomed into this prayer and to stand feet to feet with others. As we bent over, bowed, stood, and then appropriately moved our heads to the left and right, I was most certainly transformed and reminded of how important it is to embrace the cultures and religions of our neighbors without judgement.

After the prayers, we went downstairs for more discussion. The Alvernia students asked some really good questions and I was particularly impressed with their willingness to ask the difficult questions. The members of ISGVF encouraged the students to ask even the questions that they were uncomfortable to bring up. I think the ice was broken in many ways. Laughter prevailed. Understandings gained.

What a great experience.


Interfaith Encounters Day 5

Thursday began with a visit to Upper Darby to visit a Sikh Gurdwara.

khandaThere are over 20 million Sikhs around the world today. Sikhism began over 500 years ago in the Punjab area of South Asia, which now includes the vast territories of Northern India and eastern Pakistan. Guru Nanak, born in 1469, founded the Sikh religion on the  principles of love and understanding and rejection of blind rituals. Sikhism is about devotion to and remembrance of God at all times in life–behaving truthfully, embracing the equality of humankind, standing for social justice, and cooperating with people of all faiths.

As with any religious tradition, a few paragraphs cannot adequately inform you. I encourage you to read on your own or visit a Gurdwara to learn more.

Upon entering the Gurdwara, we were warmly greeted by Ashvinder and Sharan Mehta, leaders and instrumental partners of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. They gave the students a brief orientation and then helped us put on head scarves. We removed our shoes and placed them in the shoe racks. Finally, we washed our hands and wrists in the large basin just outside the prayer space.

Then, we were led into the kitchen space for the langar meal.

Langar is a community meal that Sikhs offer to all people, free of charge.
It is an expression of equality, as all people sit together on the floor and enjoy the food as one communal experience.


After a great meal and good conversation, we entered the prayer space.


Ashvinder and Sharan showed us a short video that outlined the history of the Sikhs.

Then, we had plenty of time for Q&A. Another member of the community came to join us; he also participated in the conversation and shared his wisdom and insights.

Sikhs are so authentically hospitable in every way. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Afterwards, we returned to First Presbyterian Church of Germantown for a workshop about pluralism. The students discussed the difference between tolerance and pluralism and engaged in some theater activities to explore further. I highlighted some insights of Eboo Patel, who states:

Religious pluralism is 1) respect between faith traditions, 2) positive relations between faith traditions, and 3) shared work toward the common good.

Then, it was time to head to Phoenixville to the home of some leaders in the Philadelphia Bahá’í community.

Bahá’ís base their religious practice on the life, teachings, and writings of The Bab and Bahá’u’lláh.
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 home to enjoy food, laughter, and conversation.
Soon, after our bellies were full, we watched a short video about the history of the Bahá’í faith.
A Bahá’í high school student led the Q&A with the Alvernia students.
Other members of the community shared stories and information about their faith practices.

Eventually, some of the Bahá’ís gathered asked some questions of the Alvernia students. All in all, it was a great exchange–not just of information–but of food, fellowship, and encouragement.


Interfaith Encounters Day 4

In the morning, the group returned to SHARE and loaded a LOT of food into the warehouse for distribution.

In the evening, they returned to HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy. This time, they interacted with the resident students who live in the dormitory. We participated in a square dance and had plenty of laughs and good conversation with the students.

HMSdance hmsdance2 hmsdance5 hmsdance3 hmsbrian

Afterwards, we shared a meal together as a group and prepared for Thursday–a big day with a visit to a Sikh gurdwara and a Baha’i gathering.

See you then!

Interfaith Encounters Day 3

The group’s morning began with another visit to the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy.

Then, at lunchtime, they journeyed to the East Falls neighborhood of Philly to volunteer at SHARE. The SHARE Food Program is a nonprofit organization serving a regional network of community organizations engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy. SHARE promotes healthy living by providing affordable wholesome food to those willing to contribute through volunteerism.

SHARETheir motto:

“Do Good. Feel Good. Eat Good.”

SHARE relies on volunteers and donations to help pack boxes and organize the tons of food that arrive at their warehouse so they may distribute the food to the thousands of food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens in the region.  Sadly, malnutrition and food deserts are a serious problem in Philadelphia. Many, many people especially do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

And so we worked in the warehouse–preparing boxes full of various food items that will be delivered to those in need. 

The students worked well together and showed great enthusiasm. We also met up with a teacher of an alternative high school in Philly who brought some students with him to learn and to volunteer.

Tuesday night ended with a wonderful experience at Won Buddhist Temple.

IMG_6255Won Buddhism is considered a reformed Buddhism in that it embraces the original Buddha’s teachings and makes it relevant and suitable to contemporary society. It revitalizes and modernizes Buddhism, so that an ever increasing number of people can use Buddha’s teaching for practical and useful purposes.

The name Won Buddhism (Won-bul-kyo in Korean) is a compound word meaning the universal truth, enlightenment, and teaching. Won means unitary circle, which symbolizes the ultimate truth; Bul means enlighten to the Truth; and Kyo means to teach the Truth. Won Buddhism is a religion that teaches the ultimate Truth so that people can awaken to this Truth and carry it out in their daily life.

The members of the Won Buddhist community embrace and accept those of other faiths and have made a lot of effort in inter-religious dialogue.

Once inside the temple, we were greeted by members of their community and Rev. Sungsim Lee. Strikingly, Won Buddhist temples do not have a statue of the Buddha inside the prayer space. Instead, they have, at the center of the temple, the Il-Won-Sang, a circular symbol representing the origin of all beings in the universe, the truth that all buddhas and sages enlighten to, and the original nature of all living beings.


Inside the temple, we sat down in a circle to prepare for meditation.

One of Won’s community leaders and Rev. Lee led us in some chanting and then we practiced silent meditation for about 25 minutes.

After some stretching exercises led by a member of their community, we engaged in informal conversation and fellowship.


There were many memorable and meaningful moments.

Perhaps what I will remember the most is a reading from their scriptures and an interpretation of it during the dharma talk and discussion:

We should consider others and all living things as part of our body. Only then will we cease to attach to hate.


Interfaith Encounters Day 2

Today the group from Alvernia University participated in two service-learning experiences.

First, we ventured to HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy.


Located in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, HMS School serves children and young adults through age 21 who have complex, multiple disabilities usually resulting from cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or other neurological impairment. Renowned for their success in empowering students, HMS’s day and residential programs maximize achievement and promote independence. Every child flourishes in a nurturing, respectful environment.

Each of the students went to various classrooms to participate in and to observe therapy and education.

I had the chance to drop in on music therapy sessions, speech and movement therapy, and various other activities that HMS’ wonderful staff lead.


After lunch, the group journeyed to Inglis House.

Since 1877, Inglis has made a commitment to helping people with disabilities. Inglis serves people living independently in the community, as well as those living in their residential long-term care community.


Inglis House is a specialty nursing care facility providing long-term, residential care for 297 adults with physical disabilities, including multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and stroke, among others.  Residents receive rehabilitative medical and nursing care; physical, occupational and speech therapies; and a selection of more than 20 social enrichment and therapeutic recreation programs every day.

Inglis is the largest provider of affordable, accessible housing in the Greater Philadelphia region with 208 housing units, and plans for 50 more units by 2015.

Our job today was to get the word out to residents about an upcoming piano and clarinet concert in Founders’ Hall. So we went around the three floors where residents live and told them about the concert. All the while, we interacted and got to know some of the residents and the very dedicated staff.

After the concert, a highlight of the day was meeting an Inglis resident who is an artist from Michigan. He showed us some of this paintings and even shared some of the poetry he has written.

Most importantly, he had us laughing our heads off! It was a fitting way to end our time at Inglis House.


Afterwards, we headed back to where the group is staying: First Presbyterian Church in Germantown.

I led a workshop that helped us explore the importance of asking good and curious questions in interfaith engagement and cooperation. Then, we explored the website Ravel/Unravel. The site, a program of Project Interfaith, includes over 1100 videos of people of various religious and secular backgrounds sharing their stories. I asked the students to watch a few videos and then to respond to them.

All in all, I appreciated their honest and insightful responses. I think the rest of this week will be very valuable and meaningful for us all. See you tomorrow!

Interfaith Encounters Day 1

All this week I will be with students from Alvernia University and their campus ministry director.
We will experience 6 different religious communities and engage in service-learning with two organizations.
Follow us on our journey!

Today we went to the Church of Latter Day Saints in Center City Philadelphia.
We met with 3 members of the community who are missionaries, as they are known in their tradition. They gave us a tour of the building and we even sat in on a children’s class. We heard their personal stories and learned about their perspectives on what it means to be a Mormon.
Afterwards, we experienced their sacrament service comprised of singing, speakers, prayer, the sacrament (bread and water) and scripture readings.
We were welcomed warmly and learned a lot!

Reflecting on the experience, I particularly will remember what Ammon, one of the speakers shared:
Being a missionary is not necessarily about getting more people to the church. It is an everyday action of sharing love with people in life.

Also, I was greatly encouraged by their interest in pursuing service or social work with others, i.e. Cooperation.

Let’s see what tomorrow may bring!
We will be at the HMS school for children with cerebral palsy and Inglis House.
See you then!


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