“The whole world is here!” exclaimed Beth Broadway, president and CEO of InterFaith Works of Central New York, in opening the seventh annual World Interfaith Harmony Assembly in the Syracuse area on Feb. 6, 2017. The program at the University United Methodist Church showcased Syracuse’s increasing diversity, with representatives of the 12 participating faith communities including immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Betty Lamb, president of Women Transcending Boundaries, who co-sponsored the Assembly together with InterFaith Works, told the standing-room-only audience: “We are all together in this world, and one person can make a difference.”
Last year’s host, Hassina Adams, a leader of the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” She passed the baton of leadership to Rev. Alicia Wood, pastor of University United Methodist Church. In the customary opening of these annual assemblies, members of the Interfaith Roundtable of Faith Leaders each lit a candle and expressed their hopes for the outcome of the event.
This year’s theme, “The Answer Is Love,” was portrayed in song, stories, symbols, poetry, and pantomime, drawing on scripture and traditions of the various faiths. Family members presenting together exemplified love in the home that reaches outward to embrace others.
Unitarian-Universalists sang about “answering the call of love,” and the song by the choir from Unity of Syracuse urged people to “go make a difference in the world.” Members of Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas sang in both Hebrew and English: “I will build this world from love … and you must build this world from love.” Representatives of the Turkish Cultural Center spoke of opening arms wide to each other and chanted a passage from the Qur’an about humankind being made male and female “so that you may know and love one another.”
Leaders of the Plymouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, brought bread and wine that is served in holy communion, explaining that it is the fullest expression of love. In response to the question of how to treat each other, several families from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan, and youth from the St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church re-enacted the parable, with the “good samaritan” dramatically reviving the “wounded man” with the application of CPR.
“The one who loves will find God,” stated a representative of the Sikh Foundation of Syracuse. The pastor of Hope Korean United Methodist Church and her husband read a poem echoing Jesus’ call to his followers to embody love, expressed as compassion, and leaders of the Zen Center projected on the screen an image of Buddha portrayed with many hands and eyes, “showing how to respond from the whole body with love and compassion.” Representatives of other Buddhist communities read quotes emphasizing kindness.
“This is a night to learn about each other,” Beth Broadway said in closing. She referred to ongoing efforts in Central New York to nurture interfaith understanding and welcoming people from diverse cultures and concluded with an appeal for everyone to “recommit yourself to be a welcoming community.” Host pastor Alicia Wood expressed gratitude for the energy, love, and enthusiasm radiating through the room. Betty Lamb introduced Daryl Files and Penny Hart, who headed the organizing committee of the Assembly.
Dr. Joan Hillsman, who led the Syracuse chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America and the audience in singing her original composition, “The Harmony Song,” exclaimed at the end “Love is action; love is contagious.” Her smile was infectious, and people lingered in the sanctuary and over refreshments in the fellowship hall, renewing friendships and making new ones.
Photos by Betty Lamb