Ekpedeme “Pamay” Bassey didn’t set out to become the foremost authority on religion.
And she isn’t.
But this Northwestern University graduate and Chicago resident does have a story to tell. Her spiritual journey, told in “My 52 Weeks of Worship: Lessons from a Global, Spiritual, Interfaith Journey,” is gripping.
“I think a lot of people assume the book is an exploration of the differences in religion,” she says. “That was not what I set out to do. I was just trying to get out of bed in the morning.”
About three years ago, Bassey experienced what many would describe as a crisis in faith. Having lost her father to a long illness, alongside the death of a long-term relationship, she was awash in grief. And even though her friends were there for her, she didn’t want to impose on their lives.
Feeling the need to reconnect spiritually, her “52 Weeks” project was born—Bassey decided to visit a different church, every week, for an entire year. Beginning at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and ending at the Liberal Minds Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City in California, Pamay criss-crossed the country and traveled abroad during her search for spirituality.
Pamay’s quest took her across the United States and all over the world. The religions crossed the spectrum—from mainstream versions of Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, Islam and Buddhism to less traditional offerings, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishna, Scientology, Quaker and Wiccan ceremonies.
Some, if not most, experiences were comfortable. A few were challenging. In the end, all were eye-opening, but what they had in common, says Bassey, “was that everywhere I went, I felt God.”
The takeaway? There’s something to appreciate in just about every form of worship. “Just because you choose a specific religion doesn’t mean you can’t learn from someone else in another,” she says. Bassey also rediscovered the power of human connection. You can take a scholarly approach to spirituality, but it’s the face time where you actually feel it.
“More authentic growth happens face to face,” she says. “Having that conversation might be awkward or unwieldy, but in my case, I was dealing with real people and not the talking heads. And all they were doing was gathering to worship.”
For example, in stepping out of her comfort zone to look at different styles of worship, she admitted to being nervous about her visit with a group of Wiccans. “(My friend and I) worked really hard NOT to get there,” she says. But in the end, “It was just people gathering to figure out how to honor the divine.”
If you read “52 Weeks,” you’ll want to know—is Bassey okay? Did she find the peace she was looking for?
“I ask myself that question a lot,” she says. “It ebbs and flows.” Bassey now attends three churches on a regular basis, and is more committed to the practice of her faith, starting every day with devotions.
“I’m not perfect,” she says. “It’s lifelong work and I’m learning every day what that really means.”