During the second semester of the school year, the other CRGC fellows and I had the opportunity to visit a few religious sites, including a mosque, an Episcopalian church, and a Hindu temple. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the mosque visit, but I was able to go to the church service and temple. Both of these experiences put me outside of my comfort zone to differing degrees and exposed me to new ideas about faith and religion.
I enjoyed the Episcopalian church service because it was very similar to a Catholic mass, which is the primary religious service I grew up attending. Overall the physical building looked very much like a Catholic church, and the priest leading the service wore similar religious robes to those a Catholic priest wears. However, there were a few main differences. For example, during the sermon the priest mentioned his wife, which surprised me because I didn’t realize that Episcopalian priests are allowed to marry; in Catholicism, priests remain celibate after their ordination.
In addition, I was able to observe the prayers that were said before receiving the bread and wine during the eucharist, which are different from Catholic prayers due to the fundamental difference in belief about the meaning and substance of this food. To a non-Christian, these differences may seem minor, but they are actually very profound. Catholics believe that these two foods turn into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, whereas Episcopalians believe they remain bread and wine that serve as symbols of Christ’s body and blood. I think this difference is often the reason that Catholicism is stricter about who receives the Eucharist, and can lead to people feeling intimidated by Catholic masses. While I’ve attended an Episcopalian service one other time when I was much younger, I really enjoyed the opportunity to go again because I saw so many similarities between this faith and my own, as well as unique and valuable features that I greatly admire in Episcopalianism.
The Hindu temple visit was an experience unlike any other I’ve had, within a religious context or otherwise. Going into the site visit, I knew little to nothing about the Hindu faith besides that it originated in India. However, during the visit we were able to learn from a Hindu “guru” who explained the core ideas behind Hinduism, including the multiple deities and why people pray to different ones. In addition, I learned about how Hinduism does not have a set of rules or a codebook, but rather each person has the individual responsibility to follow their own path to enlightenment. I thought this idea was unparalleled in many other religions, and also makes the religion more accessible to a range of people. Seeing all the different deities inside the temple and how intricately they are designed was one of my favorite parts of the visit and gave me a great appreciation for this faith. I found it fascinating how each deity had domain over a different area of life, such as success and knowledge or love and compassion.
These site visits allowed me to experience firsthand the places and religious ideas we have been talking about during the semester, and made me feel more connected to the other fellows who practice these religions. Even after the semester ends, I hope to be able to visit more religious spaces with friends I’ve made through the fellowship.