What did I learn about my neighbors' faith in 20 visits? I learned that some of my neighbors attend big churches alongside thousands of other people, while others gather weekly in small groups of a handful or so. Some of my neighbors pray silently, others pray out loud, still others sing and dance their praises, some prostrate themselves before the Almighty, some process before God's altar with candles and incense, and some are moved by God's Spirit to cry out in unknown tongues. Some of my neighbors like to listen to really long sermons, others keep it short and sweet. A few places host sermons that make good use of slideshows, while one church offers sermons consisting entirely of quotes from sacred texts, and two places I visited don't have any preaching at all. Some places of worship are joyously loud, others are contemplatively silent.
And all of these are places where my neighbors come together to share with each other, to build community, to have fellowship, to share joys and sorrows, to be together and recognize that they are better together and that there is something greater than themselves. Despite the bad rap many religious organizations get for spreading hate and intolerance, I never once heard hateful or bigoted speech. Instead everywhere I went I found love, warmth, welcome, respect, and excitement to share with me what each community cherished.
I began this adventure hoping to enrich my appreciation of my community and challenge my preconceptions of other traditions. I have surely accomplished both. If you are interested in learning more about the faith traditions in your community, I encourage you to visit your neighbor's church, temple, masjid, gurdwara, synagogue, or meeting house. I guarantee you'll discover lots about unfamiliar traditions, and learn far more than you imagined about your own faith.
Most of all, you will learn that whether we talk about "Allah", "Mind", or never refer to God; whether we gather on Sundays, Saturdays, Fridays, or Tuesdays at 2:30pm; whether we believe in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or don't know what that means; whether we attend every week, or just whenever we feel like it; we all long to be loved, to have meaning in our lives, to have time to reflect, to be thankful, and to challenge ourselves to lead the best lives we can.
Thank you for making the journey with me. It's been a wonderful adventure.