This week I am facilitating an alternative break program with students from Messiah College students through Interfaith Philadelphia. During the week the students and I will visit five faith communities, participate in four service-learning projects, and learn about religious pluralism, interfaith cooperation, and identity.
On Sunday [day 1], we were fortunate enough to visit Philadelphia Sikh Society.
There 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, understanding, and the 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 various leaders in the community. We put on head scarves, took off our shoes, and then washed our hands and wrists in the large basin just outside the prayer space. We sat with others in the prayer hall, listening to beautiful prayer songs in Punjabi.
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 we headed over to their educational building for an overview of the history of Sikhism and the day to day life of a Sikh. Q&A followed. the Messiah College students had some great and curious questions, including how Sikhs are committed to non-violence and how their scriptures encourage non-violence.
Afterwards, we headed to the offices of Interfaith Philadelphia for the opening workshop. We had the chance to get to know each other a little better and to share why each of us decided to participate in this program. I was impressed with the students and their commitment to learning and interfaith cooperation. After that, we defined what “curious” questions are and what “judgmental” questions are. We thought about the various communities we will visit throughout the week and what types of questions we may have.
Day 2, here we come!