A Celebration: Walking the Abraham Path

A Celebration: Walking the Abraham Path

by Anne Clarke, Abraham Path Initiative Coordinator, St. Paul’s, Benicia

After receiving a generous Congregational Vitalization Grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California last year, the people of St. Paul’s, Benicia began a journey to grow in faith and understanding through hospitality and relationship with others in the community. On May 18, 2014, we celebrated our first year of this work, and reflected on the continuing journey ahead.

This work was first inspired by the Very Rev. Jeanne Forte’s encounter with the work of William Ury, whose TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/william_ury) discusses the peacemaking potential of the Abraham Path Initiative, an organization curating and building a hiking path in the Middle East. Walking together, Ury explains, helps people to see each other and the world in different ways, particularly when our relationships with each other are challenged by longstanding conflicts or alienation. In addition, when we see ourselves as travelers, we need to provide and receive hospitality, a powerful practice that is rooted deep within many religious and cultural traditions. Being travelers on a journey together, simply put, brings out the best in all of us; it makes us more curious about each other, reminds us of our common needs and potential for generosity.

These themes—walking together, providing and receiving hospitality, and curiosity—are all part of the story of Abraham, which we share with many other religious traditions. And so this inspirational international work inspired St. Paul’s more local effort to walk more intentionally with others. This work took many forms over the course of the year. Here are a few highlights!

- Abraham Path Sunday on Hospitality: In June 2013, we dedicated an entire Sunday to discussing the theme of hospitality, and how it related to this new endeavor at St. Paul’s. We encouraged parishioners to invite someone to dinner that they didn’t know well, and to write about the experience.
- Common Ground Launch: St. Paul’s was a founding member of a new IAF community organizing effort in Solano and Napa County, joining hundreds of other organizations coming together for the common good.
- Walk in the Desert: A group of 30 people from St. Paul’s took a walk in a local park, stopping several times along the way to tell the story of Abraham’s journey.
- Diversity Festival with Sikh Community: We got to know a few leaders from a nearby Sikh temple and cultural organization, and they invited us to their annual diversity festival, which seeks to help the community learn about Sikhism.
- Children’s Program: Our Sunday School students learned about Judaism and Islam, about faith and cultural traditions, and about the Golden Rule that our traditions share.
- Hanukkah Celebration: We welcomed neighbors from Congregation B’Nai Israel to reflect on and celebrate Hanukkah together, along with storyteller Joel ben Izzy.
- Book and Movie Screenings: Along with others from the community, we held several book groups and movie screenings. One highlight was getting to Skype with the filmmaker of the documentary I AM! Even more interesting was the film Inside Mecca, a documentary about the Hajj, followed by a panel discussion about the pilgrimage with several members of the Islamic Center of Vallejo.

At our celebration in May, we took time during the service to reflect on the most meaningful and challenging aspects of our year, and then celebrated with a festive picnic afterward! Some of the themes from the year were encapsulated in this video, shown at the service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmB5gxdCmTQ&feature=youtu.be.

One of our lessons from this work is that the journey unfolds as it goes. Our next steps include:

- Small group gatherings with some of the people we have met this year, in order to make space to get to know each other better
- Working toward another community walk with others
- A summer film series (click here to view our flier about our Summer Film Series)

We hope some of our diocesan neighbors will continue to join us in this work! And we thank everyone for your support and prayers on the journey so far.


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