Interfaith group has a BIG vision for Bethlehem (and beyond)

By Stephanie Goodling

In 2017, Rabbi Michael Singer of Congregation Brith Sholom in Bethlehem saw the spikes of antisemitism and hate on the national news and wanted to change interfaith relations in his city. To do so, he ended up going door to door at local houses of worship to get the conversation started. Now, the project has expanded beyond his expectations.

“In a world that often divides us by race and economics and politics and religion, we wanted to create an organization that could put forward a positive vision for community and bring people to learn together, have fellowship together and pursue social justice together right here in the community. It was in response to hate, really, but what we’ve been able to do is something that’s radically different, which is really bring about a lot of good,” said Singer.

From those small beginnings, the Bethlehem Interfaith Group (BIG) has now grown to include over 20 faith groups, from Muslims to many denominations of Christians to the Jewish congregations of Brith Sholom and Am Haskalah. They meet monthly, basing their mission on education, social justice and friendship. Their activities range from book discussions and movie screenings to days of prayer and Thanksgiving services to “faith crawls” where members visit different houses of worship. They’ve participated together in end of Ramadan celebrations, a Passover Seder, school supply drives and calling for action on climate change. 

“Everywhere that we can come together and work together, we’ve been doing that. And the relationships that we’ve forged together, those are priceless. We pray for each other when someone is sick, the community is able to lift each other up when someone is having a difficult moment. It’s really a blessing to put forward a positive vision of community and create something that fosters closer ties and relationships together and celebrate our differences at the same time. That’s the beauty of it,” said Singer.

In 2021, BIG gained 501(c)3 status. Singer has stepped down as president, a role which has been taken on by Rev. Beth Goudy of Metropolitan Community Church of the Lehigh Valley.

“I think it so really important for spiritual leaders, of course, we are to care for our respective flocks, absolutely, but then we’re also called beyond that to make connections and work with others of different faiths, to make a better world,” said Goudy. “There is good, solid interfaith work being done and being done again to build a better and more equitable Lehigh Valley.”