The Right Way To Proselytize

On Saturday afternoon Richard, Russell and I went to the Strawberry Festival at the St. Florian Catholic Church in Hamtramck.  After goggling at the church, which is a huge, beautiful, quasi-Gothic structure that looks like it should be in a European capital rather than towering over a modest American working class neighborhood, we walked downstairs to watch younger people from the congregation enthusiastically and energetically perform some native Polish dances wearing colorful native costumes.

After applauding the dancers until a break came, we went back outside to check out the rest of the festival.  On a walkway between the church and a neighboring school, we were approached by a pleasant-faced woman who appeared to be in her 40s.  She was holding an array of prayer cards.  “Uh oh,” I thought.  “Here we go.”

She asked if we were enjoying the festival, and we said we were.  Then she asked if we were Catholic, and after we confessed that we weren’t, she asked if we were Christian.  We stammered a bit in response to that one, because none of us are churchgoers.  Then she proceeded to talk, in a very polite way, about her faith and how important she thought it was, and eventually asked it we would pray with her, right there.  Richard said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that, and Russell and I agreed — and she let it go.  She thanked us for coming, gave us each a prayer card, and said she would pray for us, and we thanked her for that and went on our way.

When you go to a church festival, you’ve got to expect to be approached about religion.  Often it isn’t a particularly pleasant experience, because the proselytizer comes on way too strong about how you’ll burn in hell if you don’t convert, right then.  In this case, I was struck by the gentle way in which the woman raised the question, made her points, and then let us go without an unkind word.  It made me admire the woman and her determined, resolute faith, even though I don’t share her beliefs.

There’s a right way to talk to complete strangers about religion, and lots of wrong ways.  This pleasant woman did it the right way.  I don’t have a problem with people who are religious talking about their beliefs and often admire their commitment to their faith, and I hope that religious people don’t have a problem with those of us who aren’t true believers.  We’ve all got to get along.

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The Colossal St. Florian

IMG_7485St. Florian Roman Catholic Church is about a block away from Russell’s apartment in Hamtramck, Michigan.  It is a huge, beautiful church, with a multi-colored spire that stands out in sharp relief against the blue sky that prevailed during our visit.

It’s hard to accurately describe the colossal size of the church, which dominates the neighborhood, is twice the height of the neighboring homes, and can be seen from blocks away.  That’s a good thing, because we knew Russell’s place was near the church, and all we had to do to find it was keep heading unerringly toward the spire.

Construction of St. Florian was begun in 1926 and completed in 1928, when Hamtramck was home to thousands of Polish immigrants who came to America to taste freedom, establish a better life for their families, and obtain employment in the booming auto industry.   It’s a rich and familiar American story, where immigrants brought their traditions and cuisines to the New World and, once they put down roots, wanted to establish their houses of worship there, too.  St. Florian still hosts festivals with a strong ethnic flavor, and even though the neighborhood has changed in the last 90 years you’ll still find some pretty good Polish restaurants, that offer some pretty good Polish beer, located close nearby.

These days, it seems, we often forget that America is truly a land of immigrants.  In Hamtramck, St. Florian provides a beautiful, tangible reminder of that fact.

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