The calendar year may have come to an end, but our school year is in full swing! Since NOVES reconvened in September, our Sunday School teachers have been tackling the daunting task of teaching the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in just a few short months. In the New Year, our curriculum will focus on the Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. These religions share the same three foundational doctrines: 1 - the Karma principle, 2 - Re-birth or Reincarnations and 3 - Nirvana. The Sunday School team has set a goal to tour 6 different Houses of Worship this year as part of our curriculum and we are on track to meet that goal!
Our first tour was of the Temple Beth Torah in Chantilly, VA. We learned about what young Jewish children do in Sunday school to prepare for their coming of age ceremony at age 13. We listened as the Cantor led them in singing their prayers in Hebrew and we even joined in. We got to hear them blow the Shofar, view the ceremonial Torah and ask the Rabbi questions. He made a clear parallel between Judasim’s and Ethical Culture’s values when he explained that being Jewish means not focusing on the afterlife or any future rewards. The only thing that really matters is that you do good work in this life on Earth.
Our Second Tour was of a local Mosque called the ADAMS Center in Sterling, VA. Our guide talked to us about what it means to identify as a Muslim in America and filled us in on the multitude of community services that the ADAMS Center provides. They offer mental health services, food assistance, Sunday school, tutoring, career training, and interfaith initiatives throughout the Metro area. All of their funding comes from their members and they do not receive any funds from foreign countries. We toured their 3-story building replete with administration offices, a large worship area, a gymnasium, classrooms, community meeting rooms and bathrooms with ceremonial foot washing stations. Young Muslim children are taught the ideology of Islam in Sunday School including how to read Quranic Arabic. They stressed a shared value with Ethical Culture in their desire to serve their community by working cooperatively with people of all faiths toward the common good.
We invited the entire Society to join us on our third House of Worship tour. We reserved 35 seats at a Holy Eucharist at the National Cathedral. On the last Sunday of Advent, we were allowed to explore and photograph the beautiful carvings, stained glass and Neo-Gothic architecture of the second largest church building in the United States. We were treated to the cathedral choirs, congregational hymns, a sermon, scripture readings and an opportunity to partake in communion. They even allowed 3 NOVES children to carry the water and wine to the priests to be blessed. It was a great opportunity to see the ritual and sacraments of Christianity. The National Cathedral is a true treasure. In addition to carvings representing the many faces of America, the main hall flies the flag of every state, and the chapel is filled with needlepoint pillows sewn in honor of numerous American heroes, presidents, scientists and artists. Not to be forgotten is the spectacular Moon Window. Sealed between tempered glass in an inert nitrogen environment is a 2 3/8” piece of basalt collected on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. It is the only moon rock given by NASA to a non-governmental institution. I encourage you to stop by the next time you are sightseeing in NW DC.
Our littlest NOVES members are busy in the Holiday and Holy Days class learning about the Abrahamic religions too. They began the year with lessons on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the late harvest festival of Sukkot. The learned about Islam as they studied Mawlid Al Nabi, better know as Muhammed’s birthday. And they dove into Christianity during the Christmas season discussing many holiday traditions like the Sundays of Advent, including St. Lucy’s day. St. Lucy was a 3rd century martyr who wore a wreath lit with candles on her head as she filled her arms with food and supplies for the persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs. These children even have a head start on the Dharmic religions because they already covered Dasara and Diwali, Hindu holidays that fall in late Autumn. One thing that is similar about all of the holy days observed as the Winter Solstice approaches is the celebration of light and the comfort of family and fellowship. I think that it is easy see the commonality they share with our own Ethical Culture Winter Festival to be held next week. I look forward to enjoying the comfort of your fellowship on Sunday!
Please take a moment to view the House of Worship Tours photo album that I have created on our Facebook page to see all the wonderful experiences I have described above. And stay tuned to my blog for an update at the end of the year on the final 3 tours and the Spring holidays we have covered in class.