For the first time ever, our little church decided to brave the big city of Denver over a long weekend in order to give our youth an experience with different faith traditions and cultures while having a bit of fun, too! We loaded up our van in the wee hours of Friday morning and began our journey.
Other than a break for lunch and gas in the ever-windy city of Casper and a couple of pit stops for small bladders, the journey went smoothly until…
May it be noted that several people mentioned “Denver Traffic”; HOWEVER, no one directly said “Denver Traffic is ridiculous. Awful. Fifty miles of slow. Give yourself an hour longer than you think you should!” Nor did anyone say, “Pastor, just an FYI – Denver Traffic will force you to practice the Christian trait of self-control in a car filled with impressionable young people in a way that nothing else every has!” Both would have been helpful tips.
Anyway…we arrived an hour and half later than expected. We were warmly welcomed by youth director Darcy at Phillips UMC in Lakewood, the place where we would camp out for two nights. As soon as we unloaded our stuff, we loaded ourselves back into the vans and made the trek through a beautiful neighborhood filled with blossoming trees and gorgeous old homes to visit Temple Micah, a small Jewish house of worship, located in a building with Park Hill United Methodist Church. Though we were late, we were warmly welcomed into the middle of their Friday night prayer service. Rabbi Morris shared a poignant message about Sabbath and Sabbatical, taking time away to remember what matters most. We did our best to follow along with the Hebrew prayers and happily sang “Peace Train.” After a brief chat with the rabbi, we were on our way to dinner.
Dinner at Casa Bonita’s. Need I say more? The kids had fun. 😉
Saturday morning included breakfast and an incredibly efficient assembly line that put together 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit cups and granola bars in record time! With 100 sack lunches in tow, it was off to downtown Denver to meet up with volunteers from After-hours Denver Church to share the sack lunches with friends without homes. At least, that was the intention.
If you’re paying close attention, you may have realized that this was May 5th. Cinco de Mayo. In downtown Denver. The place to deliver lunches was moved at the last minute, every person in Denver and the surrounding areas seemed to be headed to the same place we were, and several roads were blocked because of parade and celebrations. Patience tested. God won.
Though late, the lunches were delivered and the kids gained a hands on experience of feeding the hungry and sharing kindness with strangers. We left feeling blessed and headed over to the Aquarium for a fun afternoon of fish, sharks, turtles, and a 4D movie experience we will not soon forget!
The evening gave us a warm welcome at the Denver Islamic Society where Murad, Mohammed and friends shared an insightful presentation about their religion, graciously answered any and all questions we had, then fed us a most delicious meal of middle eastern cuisine. I believe everyone of us – kids included – cleaned our plates! We were invited to stay and witness their time of evening prayer. It was a meaningful experience.
With full bellies and sleepy eyes, we returned to Phillips UMC for a few games of pool (FYI – do not let Bev trick you into a playing a game against her. She’s a pool shark!) and hide-n-go seek. After prayer and Lisa’s nightly meditation, we feel asleep quickly and quietly.
Sunday morning worship with the folks from Phillips was enjoyable! It is fun to experience worship with our Christian brothers and sisters from other places. Bev was able to sing with the choir, Lisa caught up with some members who remembered her parents, and I was blessed with a surprise encounter with Shelly, a friend who attended Local License Pastor training with me a few years ago.
The trip home is always the longest, but the kids were good and we made it back before bedtime. All-in-all, a great trip!
Our group will find time to process our experiences with each other and share a few insights at church, but for now, let me say this: before asking our youth to confirm their faith, this trip showed me how imperative it is that they experience other faith traditions as well. Both Rabbi Morris and Mohammed were open and honest about why they believe what they do and why they do not think Jesus was the Savior we proclaim him to be. Both faith communities showed us hospitality and made us feel welcome. In both places, God’s presence was felt and shown. If we are going to confirm, proclaim and live out our Christian faith in a diverse society, we must understand and have respect for others’ beliefs while also learning how to say, “and this is why I believe what I do.”
Phillips UMC reminded us of how and why it is important for us to practice intentional hospitality with our visitors. They entrusted their space to us and made us feel at home for the two days we were there. Because of them, our youth were gifted with another safe and warm experience of being a part of the Christian family.
Thanks to all who kept us in prayer! Perhaps you will think about joining us for the next adventure…