Religions unite, learn in Bethlehem
On a warm Sunday afternoon in Bethlehem, a tradition was born. The first annual Faith Crawl occurred Sept. 15. An event that brought members from 12 different congregations together to see how different faiths practiced, highlighting the similarities and differences that exists among different religions. The Faith Crawl, dubbed the B.I.G. (Bethlehem Interfaith Group) Faith Crawl included nearly 150 participants who toured five Lehigh Valley houses of worship. There were a variety of reasons that brought members out to the event. Casey Goldblatt and Irving Kaplan, of Northampton wanted to support the effort to bring the community together, while Jennifer and Joy Crayton, Terry Green and Lisa Noreaga of Allentown said they wanted to learn about the similarities and differences between the churches on the tour, as well as to meet new people of faith.
The crawl started at the First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem. However this would be the last stop on the trip for most in attendance. Attendees of the crawl met at the church on Center Street just before 1 p.m. Dozens of of eager people waited in line to register for the event, purchase T-shirts and to board one of the two First Student school busses that were converted to B.I.G. Faith Crawl busses. The mood was jovial and happy as attendees waited for the event to kick off.
The first stop was at St. Anne’s Catholic Church on the corner of Washington and Easton avenues in Bethlehem. This 850-seat church is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Rev. Anthony P. Mongiello, Th.M., M.Ed., Pastor at St. Anne’s told the audience that he wanted to help bring people of all faiths together. He told them about the history of the Catholic Church, its methodologies and its place in local Catholic faith. Afterward everyone boarded the bus and headed down Easton Avenue to Linden Street en route to Central Moravian Church in historic downtown Bethlehem.
The bus arrived at Central Moravian Church, on Church Street, just before 2 p.m. The participants were greeted at the entrance by some of the members of the church’s congregation, who were handing out Moravian sugar cookies to all in attendance. Once seated, attendees were introduced to the Moravian influence and philosophy by Jamaican-born Pastor Hopeton Clennon, who has been in his current role as senior pastor since 2013. He told his audience about the worldwide influence of the Moravians as well as how Moravian ideology shaped Bethlehem architecture. Attendees learned that Moravian’s believed everyone was equal in life and in death, leading to many structures in and around the church being more functional in their design, as opposed to being built with status in mind. The service concluded with the singing of the hymn “Hosanna,” with the melody provided by the church’s pipe organ. Crawlers then boarded the bus and headed to Industrial Drive in Hanover Township to visit the Lehigh Dialogue Center- espect Graduate School.
At Lehigh Dialogue Center-Respect Graduate School, attendees learned about Islam. Here participants had to take their shoes off before entering the prayer floor. There were also separate entrances for male and female participants. Visitors learned that cleanliness is synonymous with godliness in Islam. Patrons removed their shoes to keep the prayer floor as clean as possible. Clergy then explained the Five Pillars of Islam to Faith Crawl participants. The pillars are: are shahada (the muslim profession of faith), salat (prayer rituals), zakat (giving to the church and poor), sawm (fasting) and hajj (Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca). One notable difference at this house of worship was the lack of music instead, words are sung for prayer.
Next on the itinerary was Congregation Brith Sholom (Conservative Judaism). Faith Crawlers were met by Rabbi Michael Singer and male participants were given a kippah to wear in the church. Participants learned about the congregation’s storied history in Bethlehem, on the Southside until 1986. Prior to this, the congregation worshipped on Packer Avenue in a space that is now part of Lehigh University. President Rob Tiles (Board of Trustees), Rabbi Singer and David Kim (secretary of the board) unveiled a Torah, handwritten in scroll, for all to see. In addition the congregation had rescued religious scrolls from the holocaust and they were on display for the attendees to view.
Finally the bus arrived back at First Presbyterian Church. Faith Crawlers were greeted by Pastor J.C. Austin, whose been the pastor at the church for the past two years. He explained that the church has been in existence for 144 years, and spent its last 62 years at the colossal Center Street Campus. Austin discussed the rituals of the sacraments of baptism and communion. He also explained to his guests that there’s little consistency among naming and building amenities, but strict oversight with church operations, within the Presbyterian Church. For example, some Presbyterian churches have stained windows and candles and some do not. Despite this flexibility, he focuses on his sermon with a governing board for dictating church regulation and finances. When asked what the difference between the 1st and 2nd Presbyterian Church was, the pastor joked that creativity wasn’t part of their naming convention and the crowd chuckled.
At the conclusion of the Faith Crawl, attendees from the event came together and posed for a group photo outside of second Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem, the same place where the tour started. The event was an astounding success that brought people of faith together, where attendees appreciated the differences between worship and cherished the many, many similarities. It was truly an afternoon to remember!