So I sauntered down to Sarasota’s First Presbyterian Church last evening for the Interfaith Service of Understanding and Peace on 9/11. I had anticipated being part of a small gathering of maybe 75 people.
When I arrived at 7:20 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. event, the parking lot was already filled to almost overflowing. And by the time I entered the Sanctuary the building was so full that I had to sit in the very back row of the balcony! My guess is that at least 600 Sarasotans (Jews, Muslims and Christians) were present.
The service included three discrete elements:
1. Christian scripture, meditation and prayer.
2. Muslim scripture, meditation and prayer.
3. Jewish scripture, meditation and prayer.
Thus the three world religions which trace their origins to Abraham were equally honoured. That is cool!
These were highlights for me (and maybe for others).
First: the courage and vision of the associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, the Revd Clay Thomas. The service would not have happened but for him.
Second: the beauty of passages from the Koran as they were sung in the service. The singing of Koran passages in Arabic was immensely lovely, as was their spoken translation into English.
Third: the words of Jewish Rabbi Geoff Huntting were powerful. He reminded us that “tolerance” is not enough. “When”, he asked, “did you tolerate someone you loved?” “When”, he went on to say “did you embrace someone whom you only tolerated?”
Last evening’s service did not “solve” anything. In fact it reminded me of all the painful and deathly elements in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interactions.
But it also gave me hope that the spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar might be drawn together in these days for the re-building and healing of the world.
We have to make our beginnings somewhere, or we shall create our endings everywhere.