It is said that Evanston is the “City of Churches.” In a sense I have come to know the truth of such a statement because over the last few weeks I have been interviewing pastors and worshipping with their congregations as part of my research for a journalism project I’m working on. But, I have also been interviewing non-Christian spiritual communities, like Udumbara Zen Center which is just one of many Buddhist and Zen meditation groups in town. Additionally, there’re Jewish Reform synagogues, Conservative Jewish temples, Orthodox and Reconstructionist communities. A mosque is in the works and store-front churches  of all denominations crop up on every corner. There’s not one but two Mennonite communities in Evanston, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a Quaker meetinghouse.

Evanston might still be the City of Churches and it’s a wonderful city at that – but there is also a rich multi-faith community developing here and I could not be more pleased. As Diana Eck and her Pluralism Project can attest, Evanston is hardly unique in this respect. The religious landscape of the U.S. is ever-changing and becoming more diverse than we have ever before known it to be. But, it is up to us to create pluralism out of our rapidly increasing diversity. We have to turn a fact: “Evanston is religiously diverse” into an intentional mission that incorporates a desire to understand our neighbors and to utilize that understanding toward social justice goals. The first step is to arm yourself with the relational experience and the religious literacy to truly benefit from this new situation.

Throughout this month I have contacted, communicated with and attended worship with many of Evanston’s diverse religious communities and I have to say that I was utterly unprepared for this undertaking. The unique richness of each service is almost too much to take in. From the sparse, contemplative Quaker Meetinghouse to the embodied Reba Place to Shabbat at Beth Emet, there are so many differences in the way these people express their faith but I’ve noticed there is also a core emotion that unites them. Each community has heartily welcomed me to join them and offered all the benefits and conveniences they possibly could. I keep feeling like each one is kinder than the last only to realize that it’s simply impossible not to exceptionalize the radical hospitality each one shows me in that moment. I really wish other people would try something like this because you really can’t imagine how beneficial it is, even to an atheist like me. I only advise that instead of doing it in the marathon my strict journalism deadline requires, you take it at a manageable pace to truly reflect on the wonder that is religious diversity.