Picnic brings together those of diverse faiths

August 16, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- After talking with a Jewish woman at an Interfaith Coalition picnic Sunday in City Park, David Washington, a Christian, plans to attend a Friday evening service at Hagerstown's temple.

Building such relationships is what draws people to the annual picnic.

"We're intentionally trying to build bridges," said David Baker of Hagerstown, director of spiritual care services at Washington County Hospital.

For Baker, participating in the Interfaith Coalition events allows him to network with people of other faiths so he can better understand those he serves at the hospital.

He said he believes people develop a sense of safety and security when they understand each other better.

The Interfaith Coalition came together shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Gwen Skrabak, the coalition's coordinator. Coalition coordinators wanted to be a visible presence in the community, building bridges and promoting peace, justice and compassion during that tense time, she said.


Its annual picnic, held for about five years, evolved as a way for the community to casually come together, Skrabak said.

On Sunday, people from all social strata and religions joined together over hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta dishes, fluffy desserts and chocolate cake. Everyone was supposed to bring a dish.

Some of the women wore headscarves. Others wore crosses or other religious symbols.

People are very welcoming, Skrabak said.

Baha'is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews were among the religions represented at the picnic. Others in attendance professed no particular religious faith.

Washington, the man who plans to attend a Jewish service after a discussion he had Sunday, is part of the New Light Metropolitan Community Church. Its mission states that it reaches out to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, among others.

"We need to look at each other with plain and simple love," said Paula Myers of Clear Spring, a Baha'i.

A prayer said at the beginning of Sunday's picnic was offered "on behalf of the eternal spirit that gives life to all."

Acceptance was emphasized by those at the picnic.

"I believe our only hope for the world is to accept each other and respect each other's beliefs," said the Rev. Valerie Wills, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Hagerstown.

Wills said she was raised to treasure diversity, and activities such as Sunday's picnic provide an opportunity for diverse individuals to connect.

If you go:

The Interfaith Coalition is coordinating a Candlelight Peace Walk to be held Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. The group will meet at Hagerstown Church of the Brethren at the corner of East Washington and Mulberry streets.

For more information, call Paula Myers at 301-842-3081 or Loyal Vanderveer at 301-223-8429.

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