West Bloomfield church hosts Religious Diversity Journeys

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 24, 2020

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — A group of seventh graders from schools across metro Detroit are currently visiting different houses of worship, dispelling myths and building bonds between people of various faith traditions.

One recent stop for the Religious Diversity Journeys program was in West Bloomfield, at Pine Hill Congregational Church, 4160 Middlebelt Road. Pine Hill is a Congregational Christian church tracing its roots to the Pilgrims that arrived in North America 400 years ago, in 1620, and established Plymouth Plantation.

“Congregationalism affirms the freedom of conscience of the individual,” the Rev. Charles Packer, the senior minister at Pine Hill, explained via email. “Its churches are noncreedal and based on covenant relationship, and each local church is self-governing — there is no hierarchy.”

Around 80 seventh graders visited the church as part of the RDJ program, an educational initiative through the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Packer is a board member of the council.

According to the group’s website, RDJ involves select seventh grade students participating in six school-day field trips — one trip per month November through April — in which they learn about the differences and similarities between the major religions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

The students tour each house of worship, asking questions and dining with the faithful there. The idea is to celebrate the diversity of metro Detroit and to find the common humanity therein, eliminating stereotypes, bullying and prejudice against others.

Each six-month cycle concludes with a program summation at either the Detroit Institute of Arts or the Holocaust Memorial Center. The current cycle will conclude at the DIA April 28.

Prior to Pine Hill last month, the group visited Sikh Gurdwara in Rochester Hills in November, and at press time was set to visit Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park in late January, then Wise Academy in Dearborn Heights in February, and Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple in Novi in March.

At Pine Hill, the students worked on a community service project, weaving together mats from recycled plastic grocery bags. The mats will be donated to the homeless, providing a water-resistant and more comfortable alternative to the cardboard sheets that the homeless often use as bedding. The mats are also lightweight and easy to carry. Each mat is made up of 500 to 600 bags.

Bob Bruttell, a co-founder of the InterFaith Leadership Council and its vice chair, said in an email that RDJ helps students break down barriers at an early age.

“(RDJ) is perfect for seventh graders,” Bruttell said. “Twelve-year-olds are curious yet wary about things they do not understand, things that may even seem weird to them. This program immerses them in other cultures and religious ways of being. By doing so, they learn a life lesson: Cultural and religious diversity are a very good thing that they can study and embrace without fear.”

Added Packer: “Upon completion of the program, it is hoped that these young people become ambassadors for interfaith awareness and consciousness. As with any journey of significance, transformation occurs that leads to less fear and more hope.”

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