On June 15th, the center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where a Namahatta group met for many years became an official ISKCON temple.
The following Sunday June 17th, new GBC Anuttama Das met with the congregation, officially announced the center as ISKCON of Harrisburg, and introduced himself, the new temple board members, and new temple president Anasuya Dasi.
The largely Indian congregation had previously been running a Namahatta group since 2003, and renting various halls to hold their weekly Friday programs.
“As the community grew and rental fees went up, they decided it would be best to just put the money into buying a building,” Anasuya says. “So in 2014 they purchased a church that was on sale for a low price and converted it.”
The temple, located at 6200 Bedford Street, Harrisburg, PA, 17111 in a quiet residential neighborhood on Central Pennsylvania’s East Shore, can occupy 300 to 400 people. The Harrisburg congregation currently comprises of 25 to 30 families, or approximately fifty to sixty people, so there’s plenty of room to grow.
Children lead kirtan at ISKCON Harrisburg,
where they have a robust Sunday School program
Since becoming an official ISKCON temple in June, the devotees have strengthened their Deity worship standards, with only Brahmana initiates doing Deity service, and festivals such as Janmastami and Gaura Purnima held not on the weekend as they were prior but on the actual Vaishnava calendar day.
Apart from these festivals, the temple still opens only once a week on Sundays. The Sunday Feast program starts at 4pm and includes bhajans, Tulasi Puja and Guru Puja, a lecture, kirtan, and prasadam. Rather than a regular Bhagavad-gita class, devotees have opted for lecture topics with relevant and practically applicable themes such as devotee care, devotee relationships, and, during Kartik, the deeper meaning of the Damodarastakam prayers.
Deities of Sri Sri Radha Sharadbihari, Jagannath Baladeva Subhadra, and Gaura Nitai have been worshipped by the community since 2006. They are brought to the temple every Sunday by the head pujari, who worships them at home throughout the week with four offerings and two aratis a day.
Meanwhile the temple management at ISKCON Philadelphia has donated to Harrisburg the very vyasasana that Srila Prabhupada himself sat on in 1975.
“Because it’s just a one-day-a-week temple, we have a picture of Prabhupada on it, not a murti, for now,” says Anasuya.
ISKCON Harrisburg offers several different services to their community. There’s a Sunday School for children, with three different classes according to age range: Kindergarten to Grade 2, Grade 3 to Grade 7, and Grade 8 to Grade 11.
The presiding Deities of Sri Sri Radha Sharadbihari
The tenth annual Harrisburg Rathayatra was held on Labor Day Weekend on City Island. An onslaught of rain immediately stopped in time for Lord Jagannath, 1,500 plates of prasadam were distributed, many new faces were seen, and the event was a big success.
“Next year we are changing the location and date, so that there will be more room for the procession, and it will be more convenient for people who usually travel out of town on Labor Day Weekend,” Anasuya says.
There’s also a steady book distribution team at ISKCON Harrisbug which distributes Srila Prabhupada’s books twice a month in local neighborhoods, art fairs, and community fairs.
“We are trying to get guidance and assistance from the ISKCON temples in Potomac and Baltimore on how to increase our outreach, especially to non-Indians,” says Anasuya. “Currently we are a mostly Indian congregation. But we are trying to broaden our horizons – after all, we are the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. So that’s our goal for 2019.”
Devotees also hope to bring ISKCON Harrisburg to the stage where it’s a seven-day-a-week temple, but they are doing this slowly, steadily and carefully.
“There are so many temples that jump full speed into seven days a week, get pujaris from India and arrange visas for them, then they don’t last and there’s no one to maintain the standard,” says Anasuya. “So we do have a plan, but we’re going to be very calculated and we are not going to rush – we only want to do it once we know we can remain stable.”
* * *