When I came to Bethlehem, the first clergy colleague in the area who reached out to me was not a Presbyterian pastor, nor even a Christian pastor, but Rabbi Michael Singer, the rabbi at Congregation Brith Shalom here in Bethlehem.

He took me out to lunch because he wanted to “get to know the new neighbor,” as did I. We quickly found we had a number of things in common: from a deep concern about the hyper-polarization of our society and the way that religious traditions sometimes contribute to that but also can help overcome it, to a conviction that our traditions require us to serve and advocate for those who are poor and marginalized in our community and world, to the challenges of being Yankees fans in Phillies country!

He also told me that there was no interfaith clergy network in Bethlehem, and he and a few other clergy were trying to start one. I’ve been involved in interfaith work since before I was ordained, and have a strong appreciation for the way it helps us understand our neighbors and the larger world better, our own traditions and commitments better, and the possibilities for fulfilling our Christian calling better, so I immediately agreed to participate.

The group’s first public event will be in a couple of weeks on Sunday, March 31, a social event to watch the movie Inside Out together. This is the animated film that depicts personified emotions influencing the behavior of a teenaged girl who has moved to a new town and is struggling to adapt; I referred to it in a sermon a few months ago.

It’s a wonderful film, but more importantly, it’s a wonderful opportunity to “take something up” for Lent: a tangible, easy, and fun way to fulfill Christ’s command to love our neighbors by spending time with them and getting to know them a bit. This is especially important with our Jewish and Muslim neighbors, who are feeling particularly unloved in the United States right now because of the disturbing increase in the past few years of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic language, acts, and even terrorism. I hope you will make a point of joining me on March 31 to send a clear message of love and friendship from First Pres.

Grace and Peace,