On my drive from New Stanton to Pittsburgh, just off of I-376 I am often distracted by the “Sri Venkateswara” Hindu temple that is just off of the highway. It’s a beautiful building built to honor the Hindu god “Venkateswara”. Since I first drove past the temple more than 2-years ago I have wanted to see if a visit was possible.
Months ago I Googled the temple and fired of a quick e-mail asking if a Protestant minister would be able to visit the temple for a tour. I was welcomed without hesitation.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting the temple with my buddy and fellow pastor, Jeremiah Gomez. Jeremiah is now a church-planting pastor in the heart of Pittsburgh and had as much curiosity about the temple as I did.
The following items are some of the learning-points I had through this experience:
Initial Contact – my first unassuming e-mail to the temple office was responded to with a favorable response. I was literally invited to come and visit and tour the temple – there were no directions on how to dress or what rules to follow – it was a “come as you are” response. I actually responded to this with more questions about how I should act/dress/etc because it was too-easy! What this taught me is that people unfamiliar with our churches are dealing with similar questions and nervousnesses. I’m wondering what information can be put on a church website to help those “outside” might need to read in order for them to cross that first line of initial contact.
Signage – as we made our way from the parking lot to the front doors of the temple, we were made aware quickly of the shoe-removing custom once inside. A sign directing us to remove our shoes and place them on the racks in the foyer kept us from any embarrassment of offending that custom as we walked into the temple office. Church-signage has been a point of contention for as long as its been necessary. I have visited churches where I have had to ask where the restrooms are and have been the one to hang the restroom signs after a conversation about the need! I assume that every Hindu walking into the temple knows to remove their shoes and place them on the rack. That sign was not for them. It was for Jeremiah and me – and for others who need direction. It wasn’t put up based on our visit that morning – it was there regardless.
Face-to-face contact – when we had removed our shoes we walked into the front office of the temple and were greeted quickly and with enthusiasm. I met the lady who responded to my e-mails and she quickly walked away to find the temple tour guide who would be giving us the tour. The office manager seemed glad and interested that we were there for a visit (we did schedule the visit for that morning). I can’t help but remember the times that an unannounced visit messed up my schedule in the past. I want to be enthusiastic and interested when someone is visiting a ministry I’m involved in. The temple guide arrived in the office and started by asking us how long we had to visit that day. Jeremiah and I hadn’t thought about time-constraints and without an answer the guide asked a second question, “Do you have a half-hour?” We nodded and were then asked, “How familiar with Hinduism are you?” We both replied with our dummy-status. We received a quick-lesson from our guide about the beliefs of Hinduism and as he explained things to us he continually referenced areas of our own faith – Christianity – that were reference-points for us to gain an understanding of some of what he was referring to. Example: “Sri” as in “Sri Venkateswara” was explained to us as a “title”, like we refer to Jesus as our “Lord”. Our guide not only had an understanding of his Hindu faith, but knew enough about Christianity to draw some examples from our understanding to better explain their beliefs to us. That was nearly a slap-in-the-face for me.
I am grateful for the experiences I had at the Sri Venekastwara temple – the Hindu-for Dummies lesson alone was worth the effort. Walking through their temple and observing their worship of their numerous gods, increased my faith and love for God.
I expected to have a heaviness or oppression in my spirit during the tour and instead experienced a renewed passion for knowledge of and contact-with those “right next door” to all us that still need to know the love of The Savior.