Interfaith Trolley offers a tour of religion in America

CHICAGO (RNS) – In America’s third-largest city, it’s possible to take a crash course in world religions in just a few miles – from the majestic and ecumenical Christian Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago on the Chicago’s south side at the humble Masjid Al-Taqwa, which meets in a converted stable, still under renovation, a 15-minute ride south.

On Orthodox Christian Easter (April 24), about 70 passengers took this ride on the Interfaith Carriage, a tour of sacred spaces inspired by this month’s convergence of Ramadan, Passover, Easter, Vaisakhi (celebrated by the Sikhs), Ridvan (observed by Baha’ is) and Ram Navami (a Hindu festival).


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Perhaps more reminiscent of speed-dating than a class in comparative religion, the tour made brief stops at five religious sites in southeast Chicago, hearing from a range of religious leaders and lay people from different religious groups.

Sponsored by local faith-based institutions such as the American Islamic College, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago Theological Seminary, Parliament of the World’s Religions, and Hyde Park & ​​Kenwood Interfaith Council, the cart was intended to promote understanding and interreligious cooperation.

“It was a beautiful event, much more beautiful than I expected, said Kim Schultz, creative initiatives coordinator at the InterReligious Institute, part of Chicago Theological Seminary. “The shared words and the shared community really hit my heart.”

“This is an incredible opportunity to come together to educate our communities and shape public discourse on what it means to live well together amid our diversity and our religious and cultural differences,” organizers said when announcing the event. the event.

At the Rockefeller Chapel, Mayher Kaur, the head of the Sikh Student Association gave an overview of Sikh practices and explained that Sikh gurus work to overcome the caste system in India. A Hindu student told attendees about Ram Navami, a Hindu festival that falls on April 10 and celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, whose story is told in the Ramayana. Shradha Jain, a Jain student, spoke about the beliefs of her faith and the April 14 festival of Mahavir Jayanti, marking the birth of the founder of Jainism.

At Ebenezer Baptist Church, Patricia Butts, the church clerk, told the musical history of the congregation – Thomas Dorsey, composer of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”, founded a gospel choir there in the early 1930s before moving to Pilgrim Baptist Church, where the former bluesman served as musical director for half a century. Meeting in a former synagogue, Ebenezer remains known for its gospel music and annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”

Butts also spoke to visitors about the church’s Easter celebrations, including the Seven Last Words of Jesus, and its vibrant and dedicated congregation.

“Our senior deacon is 102 and still going strong,” she said.

At the Claret Center, which offers “resources for the human journey,” passengers learned about the center’s offerings in spiritual direction, meditation and acupuncture, then heard a brief meditation from Heiwa no Bushi, a Bodhi Christo teacher. of North Carolina, whose spiritual teaching merges Buddhism and Christianity. Bushi encouraged his listeners to “uselessly love” rather than fill their minds with worry.

“If you love unnecessarily, you live fully,” he said.

At KAM Isaiah Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation whose Hyde Park neighbors include President Barack Obama, Rabbi Frederick Reeves explained how the congregation formed over decades as several Jewish synagogues – one of them they the oldest in the state of Illinois – merged, gathering in their current 1920s building. He also spoke to visitors about the Jewish observance of Passover, noting that one of its key elements is that it is celebrated at home, which means that each family makes Passover its own.

“If you go to two Seders in two different houses, you will have two different experiences,” he said.

The tour ended at the Masjid Al-Taqwa, a predominantly black mosque whose members are renovating their own building after worshiping in rented space for years. Most of the renovation is done by members of the community.

“You have to dig deep. And then you have to roll up your sleeves,” Imam Tariq El-Amin told his guests.

On the way back to Chicago Theological Seminary for an interfaith iftar, Saba Ayman-Nolley, retired professor and president of the Hyde Park & ​​Kenwood Interfaith Council, gave an overview of the Baha’i celebration of Ridvan and activities charities of the interfaith council. work. This work includes food pantries, homelessness assistance and refugee resettlement.

In a lecture interrupted by a sidewalk hip-hop group who began chanting about ‘divine prophecy’ as the streetcar stopped at a red light, Ayman-Nolley said Ridvan was celebrating the ‘springtime awakening of humans’ , where people can lay down their arms and embrace a message of love and brotherhood.

Back at the seminar, Timothy Gianotti, president of the American Islamic College, gave a brief meditation on the meaning of Ramadan before an interfaith iftar dinner, where he and other Muslims broke their fast by gathering with those of other denominations.

Ramadan is a time of revelation and a time of disruption, he said, in which Muslims draw closer to God by breaking away from the distractions of the world.

“We fast from all the things that get in our way,” he said. “We fast from our own sense of self-centered centrality in the universe. We fast from habits of mind and habits of being that get in the way of us – or in the way of others – in terms of spiritual living.”

Among the passengers on the wagon were Emily Heitzmann, a Lutheran minister from the North Side of Chicago, and her mother, Barbara Heitzmann, who came from Dubuque, Iowa. Emily Heitzmann said the event was a reminder of our common humanity and that people of different faiths still have a lot in common. Her mother agreed.

“We all yearn for peace, centeredness and holiness,” said Barbara Heitzmann, who said she only wished each religious site visit was longer.

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