By The Rev. Alfred Krass
I'm intrigued by a new initiative being taken in schools across the country to break down walls. If you go to the cafeterias in most schools, you find Latinos sitting with Latinos, African-Americans eating with other African-Americans, and tables that make multiethnic schools look like only white students attend the school.
The proposal is simple but radical-a "Mix It Up at Lunch Day." Everyone is urged to sit with people of other racial or ethnic groups. The theory: "Those people aren't from Mars-you have much in common with them. Get to know the other members of your community. They won't bite!" Evidently it works.
I'd like to propose a "Mix It Up Day" for our churches. As a serving pastor I only got to worship anywhere but in my congregation on a very few Sundays. At such times I always chose to worship at congregations not of my denomination. When I worshiped either with more liturgically-ordered denominations or-the other option I chose- with Quakers, I found my soul was refreshed.
I saw the way in which the Gospel was read by Lutheran Pastor Ann Salmon. She and several acolytes and worship leaders processed into the center of the congregation. The whole congregation arose. From the center of the circle Ann read or chanted the Gospel. I was deeply moved at the reverence displayed, by the congregation's tangible expectation that, "We are about to hear the Good News!" I was deeply touched by the beautiful way in which Ann either chanted or read the scripture. "What a testimony!" I felt. "There is nothing of the ordinary about this. We should all be that excited about hearing the Good News!"
When I worshiped with the Quakers, I recognized what a token action it is in our United Church worship service to ask for a minute of silence (often reduced to 45 anxious seconds!) With the Quakers it often took me twenty minutes to become centered enough to be inwardly still. The Quakers moved me to seek ways in which our congregation or its members could experience that deep silence that ought to be at the heart of a believer.
Since retirement I regularly am asked to preach in a variety of churches, and then and at other times I often worship in very different contexts. Two weeks ago I was with the Mennonites in Perkasie. It was striking how Biblically-focused they are. It even came through in their announcements. I got a picture of a congregation that sees itself called to grow in Christian discipleship.
But in the last two months, I have been part of an exercise in "mixing it up" in an even greater way. The Peace Circle-- a small fellowship of people here in Bucks from different faiths, committed to working for peace-- has decided we need to visit each other's worship. Three weeks ago we went to a Jewish synagogue for Friday evening worship. Last Friday we went to a mosque for the weekly juma. Each experience was a learning experience for those not of those faiths. It will similarly be a learning experience for the Muslims, Unitarian-Universalists, Buddhists, and Jews to attend a Presbyterian service with me on December 10. And in each case we experience the joy of receiving warm hospitality. I heard a Muslim share with those in his mosque what a joy it was when the congregation of the synagogue after the service invited us all to pull a piece of the challah off and eat it together.
But dare I say that my experience last Friday went farther? Dare I say that by being with Muslims at worship I saw people who had a seriousness in their adoration of God-in their hearts, minds, and in their bodily movement-- that made me question if I and my people have yet given God that deep a commitment? In the time leading up to the congregational prayer, a total silence pervaded the mosque. And each individual was carrying out his individual worship of God. My thoughts went to the almost non-stop conversation that goes on before services start in most churches. I know the efforts the pastors and leaders there go to to get people to quiet themselves so they will be prepared to worship, but it really doesn't work. I had rarely seen a quiet like this.
After the juma ended we were all welcomed to a meal we had never anticipated. The conversation was rich and good. The imam said he was open to any questions we might have. And we had questions, and we all spoke together about them. And we grew in mutual understanding. And we thanked God that our different faiths mysteriously bind us together.
Mix it up, friends! We have a lot to learn from each other!
Al Krass is a retired United Church of Christ pastor living in Levittown PA