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Picnic in Maugansville gives those of various faiths a chance to share

August 11, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

MAUGANSVILLE -- More than 60 people of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Baha'i, Buddhist and other faiths gathered at the Maugansville Ruritan Club Sunday for an interfaith family picnic aimed at building unity within Washington County's diverse religious community.

The event's sponsor, the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County, also hosts educational events such as lectures and discussions, but the annual interfaith picnic is intended as a social event, said Shahab Siddiqui, who helped start the picnic six years ago.

"We get together for the sense of unity and peace," said Siddiqui, a member of the Islamic Society of Western Maryland. "Just sharing a meal is in the spirit of that peace."

This sort of community, enjoyed over burgers, watermelon and kosher hot dogs, gives people of different faiths an opportunity to meet each other in a light, pleasant climate, Siddiqui said.

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"Now we are gathering like friends," he said. "We are sharing ourselves. It doesn't look like anybody has any ulterior motive."

Paula Myers of Clear Spring said her desire to break down barriers between people of different religions was what led her to the Baha'i faith, which teaches the oneness of all people.

Myers said the picnic was an opportunity to put this belief into action.

"It's amazing," she said. "I feel so at home with this group."

Interfaith community events are especially important in less urban areas, where people tend to be less aware of other religions, said Gwen Skrabak of Hagerstown, a leader of the Catholic ministry at Shepherd University.

Skrabak said she sees interacting with people of other religions as a way to recognize that faith is not one-size-fits-all while remaining true to the traditions that hold personal meaning.

"Ninety-plus percent of the time, when you are around a person of another faith, it deepens your own faith," she said.

Return to roots

Temm Shonin Bikle, a Buddhist monk from Hagerstown, used the picnic as an opportunity to reconnect with members of the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren. Bikle said he was raised in the Brethren church, which, like Buddhism, places great emphasis on peace. He became interested in Buddhism in 1963 after he saw images of a Buddhist cleric burning himself to death in South Vietnam in protest.

"That made me very curious how someone could do that and remain so calm," Bikle said.

After returning to Hagerstown from eight years of travels in India, Nepal and Japan and three years of training in New England, Bikle said he joined the Interfaith Coalition because he believed strongly in its mission.

"Interfaith understanding is a necessity for peace," he said.

Upcoming Interfaith Coalition events include a presentation on religion and the U.S. Constitution Oct. 6 and a presentation on living one's faith in secular contexts Oct. 27, Skrabak said. Both events will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren at the corner of Mulberry and Franklin streets.

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