For the past 15 years, neighbors in Washington from various faith traditions have spent a Sunday afternoon in September walking side-by-side in a public celebration of unity, friendship and religious tolerance.
Washington’s annual Unity Walk began in 2002 and occurs every September to mark the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.
“The simple act of doing something together — a walk, a meal, a service project — is a good path for building human solidarity that transcends our differences,” says Bill Aiken of Soka Gakkai International’s Washington Buddhist Center, who helps organize the annual walks.
The walk is free and open to everybody. The event begins with an opening ceremony at Washington Hebrew Congregation, then walkers set out along Massachusetts Avenue and stroll past the foreign embassies that line Washington’s famed “Embassy Row.”
Along the way, participants stop to visit religious centers including a Sikh gurdwara, Christian cathedral, Jewish synagogue, Muslim mosque and Buddhist temple. The walk this year concludes at the Islamic Center of Washington.
Volunteers in each place of worship greet the walkers as they wander through, and spend time with them answering questions and discussing their distinct spiritual beliefs and practices.
Symi Rom-Rymer, the lead organizer of the event from Washington’s InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, sees the Unity Walk as a way for people to learn about other religions in a low-stress environment.
“It can often feel intimidating to walk into an unfamiliar religious space,” she says. “By structuring the event as a series of open houses, people are warmly welcomed, encouraged to ask questions, and interact with clergy and lay leaders in ways that can open the door to future interactions.”
Community interfaith councils, like the one organizing the Unity Walk in Washington, are made up of numerous faith traditions. Interfaith groups are popular in the United States. They promote discussion among people of various faiths.
Rom-Rymer says the Unity Walk provides a powerful message in the U.S., “one that prizes unity over division, friendship over hate, and common ground over separation.”
Religious diversity in Washington
Adherents look to various faiths:
- 65% Christian
- 24% non-religious
- 4% Jewish
- 2% Muslim
- 2% Buddhist
- 1% Hindu
- 2% other non-Christian faiths
Source: Pew Research Center