Lancaster Interfaith Coalition

Rabbi Jack Paskoff, of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, speaks at a previous Lancaster Interfaith Coalition gathering.

A pilgrimage is defined as a journey to a sacred place. Depending upon one’s faith tradition, it might mean walking Spain’s famed Camino de Santiago, worshipping at Jerusalem’s Western Wall or traveling to Mecca.

When members of the Lancaster Interfaith Coalition discussed going on a pilgrimage, they realized Lancaster County has its own sacred places.

“We thought about doing a larger trip, abroad perhaps, but we realized there is such a richness here in Lancaster County,” said the Rev. Amy Shorner-Johnson, interim chaplain and director of religious life at Elizabethtown College and a coalition organizer.

Beginning Friday with a dinner and visit to Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, local residents can take part in a Lancaster County pilgrimage that will introduce them to different faith traditions in their own backyard. The pilgrimage is open to anyone who desires to learn about different faiths.

Other dates and visits include Sunday, March 15, at Church of the Apostles; Friday, March 27, at Islamic Community Center of Lancaster; Sunday, March 29, at Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster; and Saturday, April 4, a final reflection gathering with River Crossing Playback Theatre, an interactive setting in which audience stories are told and discussed.

Shorner-Johnson said while participants are welcome to attend all five events, the committee is asking people to commit to at least one full weekend (March 13, 15, or 27, 29.)    

Those interested can register at eventbrite.com/e/interfaith-pilgrimage-in-our-own-backyards-tickets-92205133035.

The fee is $40 to attend all events and $25 to attend a single event.

Past events

For the past three years, members of the Lancaster Interfaith Coalition have attended interfaith vigils, educational events and rallies after tragedies in which specific faith or ethnic communities have been targeted.

The bonds have created a sense of understanding and mutual respect, but some members sensed a desire to gain a deeper understanding.

“We were seeing the same faces at vigils but not knowing of their conviction at a deeper level,” said Lenore Bajare-Dukes, a member of the Interfaith Coalition committee. “So we started brainstorming.”

She said that even though members had visited each other’s houses of worship, there “clearly was a hunger there to experience what they experience in their faith.”

Shorner-Johnson said when the coalition first held gatherings at different houses of worship several years ago, they were surprised by the turnout.

“We were astonished with how many people showed up. Since that time, we’ve had other opportunities to   visit and other events.”

Because some people were seeking something a bit deeper, she said, “we decided to ... offer a space where we would visit a little bit more intentionally one another’s worship services, also have the opportunity to reflect with a specific group that would be doing the same thing ... and share that time together.”

Shorner-Johnson said past participants “have shared the things the different religions have in common.” Her goal through this pilgrimage is to understand what makes each religious tradition different — who they admire and what continues to attract them to that tradition.

‘A mutual gift’

While the series is designed to teach participants about other faith traditions, both Shorner-Johnson and Bajare-Dukes said the experience has had a counterintuitive effect.

“It has helped me become more alert to my own faith,” Shorner-Johnson said. “For me, I feel I’m a more profoundly dedicated Christian because also I’ve appreciated the beauty of my own tradition, so there’s this mutual gift.

“I look at my own texts and my own worship services with a renewed energy.”

Added Bajare-Dukes: “It clarifies what we believe in our own faith traditions.”