Woodward Chaplain Katie Kilpatrick stopped by the blog to provide her perspective on the recent Interfaith Immersion trip that helped cap our Week of Understanding.
One of my favorite parts of serving as the Academy Chaplain at Woodward is the commitment to fostering a deep respect for difference. I have the opportunity to work with students each day in the area of religion, encouraging them not to simply “tolerate” the beliefs of another but rather to understand, embrace, and appreciate the beautifully diverse aspects of faith. A part of this mission is fulfilled each year through our Sacred Spaces: Interfaith Immersion Trip in the Upper School. Woodward Academy’s third annual immersion occurred March 22-23 in partnership with Interfaith Community Initiatives, an Atlanta-based organization seeking to honor the sacredness of all faiths while honoring common humanity. This year’s trip was particularly unique, with the participation of 14 students from the Chaplain’s Council and Comparative Religions course.
The trip began on Friday afternoon, as we boarded the bus following Week of Understanding festivities. We immediately traveled to the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam for afternoon prayer. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with love for a time of fellowship and learning. Students learned about the Islamic faith from religious leaders before participating fully in afternoon prayer. The service included a beautiful message from Imam Plemon El-Amin on peace and love following the violence in New Zealand the week before. He both condemned acts of violence and called for love across all faiths. Imam Plemon even spoke directly to our students in the midst of the service, describing the importance of the immersion trip they were embarking on for the weekend (a trip that he joined us for on Saturday!). During the time of prayer, students were invited to watch or to participate. Many students felt surprised by the sincere welcome and hospitality offered as Muslims helped lead them through the motions of the prayers. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also attended Jummah that afternoon and offered words of solidarity with the Muslim community. Students had the chance to pray alongside our mayor and meet her afterward while standing with the Muslim community! When we boarded the bus, students described the masjid as one of the spaces with the deepest love and sincerest hospitality they had ever experienced.
Following our time at the Masjid of Al-Islam, we boarded the bus to visit Kirkwood United Church of Christ and the Temple on Peachtree Street. At Kirkwood, students learned about love for “everyone, everyone, everyone” that transcends race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion within the UCC. Students had the chance to engage with the new, beautiful space while learning from conference minister Rev. Heather Fosburgh. At the Temple, students learned about the Reform Jewish tradition before participating in a Shabbat service. Once again, there was a message of love lifted and our students were blessed as they continued their trip. Rabbi Loren Lapidus even offered specific blessings for the Muslim community in light of the events in New Zealand. Many students recognized that the message of compassion for all people echoed the messages of love expressed at our first two sites. What a beautiful thing to hear Muslims, Christians, and Jews all praying for one another on the very same evening!
After returning to Woodward for rest and recovery Friday evening, our immersion weekend resumed early on Saturday morning with bagels as we made the drive to Lilburn to tour the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Students were amazed by the architecture and the beautiful faith of our guide. They learned about the construction of the mandir while also witnessing the continued theme of welcome for all people. This subject matter continued at our last “official” visit to the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Once again, students experienced extravagant welcome while engaging in meditation practices with Taiun Michael Elliston. On the way back to Woodward, we had the surprise opportunity to visit the Al-Farooq Masjid on 14th Street for a tour. As we stood in the space where thousands pray, we once again felt uplifted by love, compassion, and hope.
In offering reflections following the trip, many students noted the significance of many faith leaders who blessed us during their worship services, traveled on the immersion trip in community with us, and prayed for love across religious traditions. Just as the students were transformed, I was transformed by our trip yet again. I wonder what the world would look like if every single person attended an interfaith immersion trip. Would this create a deeper sense of peace...love...understanding...compassion…appreciation? I believe that it would, and I’m so thankful that these experiences are beginning at Woodward Academy!