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.

langar

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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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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