At a time when the country is being torn apart by hate rhetoric and fear of those unlike oneself, more than 650 members from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist communities came together October 24 in a show of unity at the Fourth Annual Union County Day of Prayer in Westfield.
“It is great to be together with leaders of other faiths,” said Rev. Michael Saporito, pastor of The Parish Community of St. Helen, which hosted the event. “This is such a year of turmoil for people in the country. It is great to bring different people of faiths together, and what faith doesn’t want love, peace and unity and want to treat other people with the dignity they deserve?”
The annual Union County Day of Prayer, whose theme this year was Unifying Our Community Through Prayer, is hosted each year by the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council, comprising more than 40 interfaith congregations and community-based nonprofits, including founding member Community Access Unlimited (CAU). The evening featured prayers, songs and meditations from religious leaders of various faiths from throughout Union County.
“Martin Luther King once said that the most segregated time in this country is 11 a.m. on Sunday when everyone goes to their segregated church,” said Sid Blanchard, CAU’s executive director. “People with disabilities can’t go because they are excluded, they are unwelcome. By bringing the community together and meeting each other, we are seeing that all people have value. People with disabilities and young people who have been abused and neglected will be welcomed in the faith community of their choice.”
Unity and togetherness was the theme that carried through the evening.
“It is important to come together to offer prayers for our community and country at large,” said Deacon Timothy Williams of the First Baptist Church in Kenilworth and chairman of the council’s steering committee.
Added Pastor Carl Brewer of the Metropolitan Seventh Day Adventist Church in Plainfield, “It is something to build our community and we should always do what we can to bring us together.”
The Venerable Klint Kevalin of the Dhammakaya Meditation Center in Fanwood described the event as “Something that the world really needs. It is something that we as a community need to show, that peace can happen. We come from different faiths joining together to bring light to the world.”
That light has never been more needed than now. Rev. Dr. L.L. DuBreuil, pastor of Faith United Church of Christ in Union, said, “We are living in a time of suspicion and ignorance. It is important that we get to know each other, pray together and shine the light.”
Imam Khalil Abdul Aziz of Plainfield’s Mosque Masjidullah, agreed, saying, “Here in 2017, I think we haven’t made the effort to get to know each other. We live next to synagogues, churches and mosques, but we don’t really know each other. Interfaith efforts are very productive in bridging that gap.”
Cantor Matt Axelrod of Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains spoke of the advantage of building that bridge, saying, “Anything that brings us together and shows us what we have in common makes us a stronger community.”
That was a belief shared among the other religious leaders and reflected their denomination’s teachings. Said Rev. Ann Marie Alderman of the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, “Part of our faith is the interconnected web of all beings. We believe that all the various ways to reach the holy are legitimate and it is important for us to work together so the beloved community arrives.”
Rabbi Cecelia Beyer of Temple Beth AhmYisrael in Springfield described Shema, a prayer that is the central tenet of Jewish worship, explaining, “What that says is that God is one. It is important that we find those things that unite us under one God. It is why events like this are important.”
The Interfaith Coordinating Council was created by Community Access Unlimited CAU, a statewide Elizabeth-based nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, providing supports in areas including housing, vocational skills and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.
About Community Access Unlimited
Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 38th year in 2017, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU provides support and gives voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little support and no voice in society. CAU helps people with housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil right. CAU currently serves more than 6,000 individuals and families, with the number served growing each year. For more information about CAU and its services, contact us by phone at 908.354.3040, online at www.caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.