Why are these small details — a blue stool, a guitar — etched so clearly in travelers’ memories? David Crumm, editor of ReadtheSpirit.com and a former religion writer for the Detroit Free Press, believes that attending religious services while on trips lets travelers connect with others at a more visceral level beneath the tourist veneer.
“People travel widely — then never actually engage with people,” he says. “One way to authentically engage is to go to churches or religious services. I’ve done it throughout my life.”
Suehaila Amen, 33, of Dearborn, Mich., believes the same thing. She recently was in Boca Raton and attended services at two mosques.
“I attended two separate services, one conservative and one liberal,” she says. “At the liberal mosque, I was welcomed, even though I walked in the wrong door, the men’s entrance. Everybody was extremely friendly. … Then I went down the street to the very beautiful conservative mosque. It was more like, ‘She’s a new face; we don’t know who she is.’ They had people protesting outside the mosque.” Once she was inside, “I found it to be a very warm experience.”
Still, she fretted she might make a mistake in the prayers, that her arm placement might vary from what others practiced.
“I was worried that they might notice I did things differently than they did,” she says. “My friend said, ‘No, they won’t even look at you.’ ” And nobody did — except later, when they recognized Amen as a former cast member of the All-American Muslim reality show on TLC.
Ann Langford of Howell, Mich., was humbled while visiting New York when she decided to attend Times Square Church, which has 8,000 members.
“Housed in a former Broadway theater, the congregation captured the true spirit of New York,” she recalls. “The volume of the singing matched many rock concerts I’ve been to, and the Christian testimony made our eyes well up.
“It was literally the highlight of our weekend in the city.”