By Franklin Bondonno and Gail Jacobs
Campbell UMC Church and Society Committee
On September 11 of this year, for the sixth year running, the Campbell United Methodist Church hosted a 9/11 Interfaith Dinner and Prayer Service to celebrate building community in the diverse South Bay area. The dinner, which drew more than 150 attendees, has become a significant signature event for Campbell UMC, according to recently appointed Pastor Jim Mishler. This year, in addition to representatives from three Muslim communities, there were Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, and a variety of Protestant and inter-denominational groups represented.
The event began with a halal, kosher, vegetarian dinner with attendees at each table discussing such questions as "How has your life changed since 9/11?" Hearing the different answers from different perspectives was very enlightening.
After dinner, the appointed muezzin announced the Muslim call to prayer. Led by the muezzin, members of all faiths joined in the evening Muslim prayers on the church lawn. Attendees then moved into the church sanctuary for remarks, prayers, and litanies led by two Muslim and two Christian teenagers. Cantor Philip Schwartz of Temple Emmanuel sang two Jewish prayers in Hebrew, one of which was based on Isaiah 2 – the turning of swords into plowshares.
A general discussion followed, with active participation by Saduhi Siddique, Secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; Fatih Sarigoz, Chairperson of the Pacifica Muslim Community; Maha El Genaidi, Director of Islamic Networks Group (ING); and Andrew Kille, of the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council Board, and numerous others. The evening concluded with a blessing by Rev. Justin Ryu of the recently formed New Creation UMC, co-located on the Campbell UMC campus.
Gail Jacobs, Church and Society Committee member at Campbell UMC, found the 9/11 event to be "a deeply moving experience that allows us to understand more about the many faiths, beliefs, and cultures – not from a textbook, but directly from the mouths of God's children. But I wondered what others thought about the experience." Following is a collection of thoughtful, sincere, and eloquent reflections:
"This experience tonight has been deeply profound. I am completely touched by the kindness, generosity, friendship, love, compassion, and understanding." – Catholic Sister
"On a personal level, it is important to me to witness the coming together of the different faiths on a day like 9/11. On a higher level, I see this as a social project where we collaborate with Campbell UMC on showing the world that love and friendship can come out of the anniversary of such an event. The highlight for me was the praying together. I don't think there are many Muslims/Christians/Jews on the planet today that have gone through this experience." – Muslim, Silicon Valley Branch of Pacifica Institute
"It is so heartwarming to be in the sanctuary with the diverse group that is surrounding each of us with love, respect, and tolerance. It is in true partnership that we make the difference." – Campbell UMC member
"It is not tolerance that I want to talk about; it is acceptance. You can tolerate somebody but acceptance is more important." – Muslim
"I am proud to be part of a community in which there is so much respect and willingness to reach out and build bridges of understanding and connection." – Silicon Valley Interreligious Council member
"I learned so much about the other people at our table. One sentiment that will stay with me forever is that we should learn respect rather than tolerance. A highlight was the Muslim prayer. Each time I hear the Jewish chant I think about the ocean waves rustling up to the shore." – Jew
"These types of gatherings lessen fear and help us to act with more compassion and be less judgmental. I enjoyed the Muslim prayers and I especially appreciated the Hebrew chants." – Catholic Sister
"As a Muslim and a person of faith, I admire people like you. You exemplify what a believer is. You don't just talk the talk; you actually walk the walk – in your generosity, your sincerity, your humility, your graciousness, and your openness. You are a true testament to your faith as Christians. Thank you for making us part of your family." – Muslim
In closing, Pastor Jim Mishler, Campbell UMC, shared some profound and inspirational words he had come across somewhere:
Because God is with us, we walk in faith, not fear.
Because God is with us, we walk in hope, not despair.
Because God is with us, we walk in love, not hate.