Friday, July 26, 2013

"Experience Your Neighbor's Faith, Deepen Your Own"

People of faith more than not grow up with one religion or within one sector of a religion. They don't explore outside their own faiths or learn about other world religions. I know I am guilty of this. I have a basic understanding of the guiding principles and foundation of other religions but that's the extent of it.

On Monday, June 24th, we went into the city for a day with Faith House. Their slogan is "Experience Your Neighbor's Faith, Deepen Your Own." Throughout the day, they did just that. They opened my eyes to new spiritual practices and I got to experience firsthand other faiths.

Before we got started one of the leaders explained it this way, "think of the picture you are building up in your head of the different faith houses and religions we are about to experience. Now as the day goes on, consider what is missing in that initial image."

It was a jam-packed day and the HOTTEST in the city, in the mid-90s. Since, we were visiting houses of faith, everyone dressed respectively and conservatively in long sleeves and pants. Needless to say, we were all DYING! However, overall it was an impactful day.

Our first stop was Kossar's Biali's, the oldest Jewish kosher bakery (and bakery, period!) in the U.S. where we all got bagels. The BEST bagel I've ever eaten. I almost took it for granted because the feeling of starvation was setting in when we finally made it after a horrendous 2+ hour bus ride.

Stop #1:
From there we walked over to Eldridge Street Synagogue. Now picture in your head this enormous, spectacular synagogue in the middle of Chinatown. Everyone was speaking chinese and fish markets were right around the corner making it appear completely out of place. The neighborhood over the years has completely transformed.

Outside of the Synagogue
The entry hallway.
The synagogue was originally erected in 1887 and a thriving place of worship for hundreds of Jews until the Great Depression. After World War II in the 1940s, attendance began to dwindle and the synagogue closed its doors. Somebody rediscovered this beauty in the 1980s and in 1996 it was marked a National Historic Landmark. $18.5 million later and the building stands in its original grandeur. The synagogue is now home to a small congregation and a museum for tours, school programs, and cultural events.

Our tour guide was wonderful and painted us a complete picture of what it would've been like to experience a service in the early 1900s.

Stop #2:
St. Peter's Catholic Church is the oldest Catholic Church in New York City. It sits in the heart of downtown surrounded by Wall Street and other big businesses of the U.S. For this stop, we actually experienced a noon day mass which was not too different from a short Episcopal service. However, it was different enough to put me out my comfort zone.

Stop #3:
St. Paul's Chapel is an Episcopal chapel part of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church. The chapel has major historical significance from George Washington worshiping there during the 1700s to being a place of support for 9/11recovery workers. It sits across the street from the World Trade Center. Now a museum to the public, pictures and testimonies from 9/11 cover the walls. The most miraculous story was how the chapel had no structural damage from the towers collapsing. It stood high and strong amongst the rubble.

As an Episcopalian, I had no idea that this chapel served as a sign of hope and became a place of reconciliation for those affected by the tragedy. I am continually reminded of why I am part of this faith.

Stop #4:
Around the corner we walked into what looked like a run down building on a somewhat empty street. Surprisingly, it was Park51, the muslim community and worship center, which caused much controversy throughout the nation and in New York City because of its proximity to the World Trade Center. I remember reading bits and pieces of articles and hearing about it on the news. The way the story was told you would think Park51 is across the street from the World Trade Center with a huge banner on it saying "we are muslims here." However, it is nothing like the image I had in my head. It is a simple warehouse building that sits a couple streets away and around the corner. If I hadn't been told to walk into a certain door, I would have walked right past it.

The outside of Park51

Two muslim community leaders with completely different backgrounds shared information about their stories, the story of Park51, and the Islamic faith. One leader, Hanandi, who is 28 and grew up as a muslim, was attending an Islamic school in Brooklyn when 9/11 happened. Hearing her testimony as a muslim teenager living in New York City post-9/11 almost brought us all to tears. She experienced and witnessed such violence and hate for something she and her faith had nothing to do with. But as much as it could have torn her apart, it strengthened her. Now she is working to help other muslim teenagers and educate others about Islam. She's an inspiration.

Hanandi sharing her story.

Stop #5:
The last stop of the day was to the Soka Gakkai NYC Buddhist Center. In this space we were able to experience another form of worship. We went up to a large space with chairs set up in rows and a couple of people sitting up front with microphones and a gong. The leaders with the mic began a certain chant then everyone followed rapidly chanting one saying repeatedly until the gong sounded and the leader started a different chant. As a guest who did not understand the language and was clueless to what was occurring, I still felt a sense of welcoming. The chanting enveloped me and brought a sense of calm to the point that I almost fell asleep (whoops!). It was interesting witnessing this other form of worship but it left with me with more questions about this Buddhist faith than answers.

We couldn't take pictures inside so here is the outside of the building.
Overall, the day was full of surprises and much learning. However, we only got a taste of different faiths and there is still much to know about each one of them. One commonality is everyone we met were all welcoming and eager to explain the importance and impact that certain faith has had on them. While it may be in a different language, different form of worship, and with different teachings, God is touching each one of us to spread good works, peace and happiness.

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