Imagine Members of Many Faiths, United in a Song of Blessing and Peace

September 20, 2012

By Gail Jacobs
Campbell UMC Church & Society Committee

Imagine a world in which people of diverse religions gather around a table, breaking bread and discussing their faiths. At this table, they listen attentively and respectfully, seeking a deeper truth and understanding to questions they have held privately – all in a non-threatening and non-judgmental manner. Now, imagine not only one table, but also a fellowship hall filled to capacity with animated conversation and new friendships blossoming.
Sound impossible? Or maybe this scenario could only be found in a utopian novel.
Imagine again…
For the last seven years, the Campbell United Methodist Church has hosted an interfaith dinner and prayer event. Its original objective was to create an opportunity for open dialogue between Christians and Muslims after 9/11; it has since grown to include Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, and people of other faiths. This year, the theme was Building Human Bridges: An Evening of Unity and Understanding. Approximately 180 people attended the gathering on Sept. 11, 2012.
Gazing at the sea of humankind under one roof, everyone with their own backgrounds, experiences, and traditions, leads one to wonder if we are all part of a grander vision. The gathering serves as a microcosm and provides a glimpse into a world the Creator may have always known could exist, but yet still longs for – harmony and unity for all God's children. 
Over a halal-kosher dinner, thought-provoking questions were tackled, such as, "How can we change our focus from a remembrance of the 9/11 event to a focus on the future?" and, "If you were designing a program to build human bridges, what would its parts look like?"
Following dinner, everyone was invited to join in Muslim prayers. The evening concluded in the Campbell UMC sanctuary, where the participants continued to explore ways the various communities could maintain and grow the momentum of building connections.
Franklin Bondonno, Chair of Campbell UMC's Church & Society committee, has taken a lead role in organizing this gathering since its inception. He states, "On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy gave the commencement address at the American University in Washington, D.C. In it, he articulated our common humanity as follows:
For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. We are all mortal.
"I believe in that common humanity, and know that we must nourish it or perish. Our 9/11 interfaith event is a way of nourishing that common humanity," Bondonno said.
Another member of Campbell UMC, Joe Kappia, shared some information about his life growing up in Western Africa. Raised by a Muslim mother and a Christian father, Joe explained that the Liberian and Sierra Leone populace is a mixture of Muslims and Christians. As such, there is a deep respect for each other's religions. Muslims and Christians co-exist in harmony. Interfaith marriages are not unusual and the children attend school together. On Fridays, the children attend mosque and on Sundays, they go to Sunday school. They read both the Bible and the Koran and people work side-by-side in a spirit of cooperation and for the common good.
Chair of the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, Reverend D. Andrew Kille, has attended the Campbell event for the past three years. From a personal standpoint, he says he believes it is important to highlight what is going well in relationships with Muslims – on 9/11 in particular. "I am proud to live in a community that has events like this and I want to support them," he says. "Professionally, I want to know what is going on in the Valley and lift up our many localized efforts as part of a county-wide reality." 
Kille enjoys seeing friends he has made at this event over the years and looks forward to this gathering each year. Joe Kappia's words about Christian/Muslim relationships in West Africa delighted him. "It was good to know of other places where positive connections have been made," Kille said, and added that the highlight for him was hearing the discussions at the end of the evening. The suggestions for moving forward gave the sense that "this would not just be a limited, one-occasion gathering," he noted.
The Interfaith Dinner event seeks to create an environment that extends beyond merely promoting tolerance; the event strives for true acceptance. Each year, the dinner has grown and expanded to include more and more people. It provides for a deep and rich personal experience for each participant.
Following are some reflections from just a few of the people who wanted to join in the discussion and share their response to the question, "How do we continue to build human bridges and how do we keep from flagging and losing our enthusiasm?"
  • Friendship starts with a smile; then an invitation to breakfast, lunch, dinner or perhaps just sitting down over a Turkish coffee. That is the beginning of a long journey – and it starts with coffee.
  • Offer workshops where we can ask questions and learn more; we often fear offending others with our ignorance.
  • Engage in small groups; work together on a service project, such as Habitat for Humanity – there are many projects that involve providing food, clothing, or shelter.
  • As a Muslim woman, I brought my young son last year and we wanted to come again this year. He feels a part of this interfaith community.
  • We should plan something together that will bring all our families together. 
  • Involve our kids – they are open and don't have the prejudices; create an environment in which kids can play soccer together and engage with each other. 
  • Children watch how we live and behave; let them know when words or actions are unacceptable – be an example.
To paraphrase one final comment that came from a Muslim participant: We are all ambassadors. We took a brave step to come to this event; now let's keep up the positive energy, share what we've experienced, and bring it out into the world.
As a fitting and moving conclusion to the evening, the sanctuary was filled with the voices of members of multiple faiths, united in a song of blessing and peace. Dave Foyle, Campbell UMC, led everybody in singing an original composition called "God's Peace to You," which incorporated "Peace" in the languages of Judaism (Shalom), Islam (Salaam), and Christianity (Peace):
"Shalom to one, Salaam to all,
God's Peace – God's peace to you.
Shalom for now, Salaam forever,
God's Peace – God's peace to you."
(Copyright 2007, Dave Foyle)
Shalom, Salaam, and God's peace to all.