As snow fell and frigid winds blew, over 200 people gathered on Feb. 8, 2015 in gorgeous St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral to celebrate the rich diversity of faith traditions in Central New York. The theme of this year’s Interfaith Harmony Assembly was “Commonalities in Our Diversity.” Eleven faiths participated in the program, some collaborating with a different faith in their presentation.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community presented together. David Morgan and a group from St. Paul’s and Safeta Cerimovic (Local President of the Woman’s Auxiliary) and women from Ahmadiyya Muslim Community stood at opposite sides of the altar under a symbol representing his/her faith. They spoke of similarities among them:
- Both mark the day in prayer. Episcopalians say “the office” and Muslims say prayers at the same times each day.
- Both have a call to worship. We were treated to a magnificent organ prelude which resonated throughout the cathedral; Satefa read an English translation of the beautiful Muslim Adhan.
- Both begin worship services with prayer, have prayers of praise, and close with a prayer that sends worshipers out into the world to serve others.
- Both have great traditions of hospitality.
Next, The Islamic Society of Syracuse and Temple Concord presented. Magda Bayoumi of the Islamic Society said that both groups pray to the same God and share some similar prayers, the golden rule, fasting, justice, and peace. A member of the Islamic Society read a poem she had written “Poem for a Woman Growing Up” and a cantor from Temple Concord sang.
Pastor Richard Yost from Immanuel Lutheran Church and Bishop Matt Perry from the Church of Latter Day Saints on Bear Road introduced their portion of the program by talking about the close relationship between their churches. They have joined for dinners and programs like “God’s Work in Our Hands” collecting blankets for Vera House, school kits, and a project knitting scarves and hats. A large group of members of both congregations sang, “Have I done anything good in the world today?”
The Zen Center of Syracuse and Unity of Syracuse, neighbors on East Seneca Turnpike, presented together. Rev. Edith Washington of Unity discussed their similarities: Zen is our true Nature expressing our nature moment by moment. Buddha means “the awakening.” Members of Unity have awakened to their true oneness with others, and seek to help others along the way with compassion through a “kaleidoscope of individualized expressions of ourselves.” Shinge Roshi Roko Sherry Chayat of the Zen Center introduced a traditional Buddhist tale that was acted out by members of both groups. Next a multi-generational choir from Unity brought the house down with two songs: “Start a Fire in my Soul” and a Michael Jackson medley including “We are the World,” which had us on our feet and joining in.
After a closing blessing by Rev. Penny Hart, Joan Hillsman led us in a final song “Love, Joy and Peace.”