New and old faiths were represented at the sixth Celebration of Faith hosted for the second year at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Charles. The Interfaith Partnership of St. Charles County sponsored the Celebration of Faith.
This event certainly fulfilled the organization’s stated goals: “To promote peace, respect and understanding among people of all faiths . . . We can achieve this through dialogue, education and programs that are uniquely interfaith.”
The word “interfaith” indicates that a group will include persons who worship in different ways, practice different religious rituals, hold different faith beliefs and name a variety of Scripture sacred. Yet the people come together cordially and willingly to learn of and about one another, to gain understanding and increase awareness so that barriers and walls of prejudice and intolerance can be torn down and not built up again.
And that is a very good thing.
The Rev. Betty Bowen, deacon at Trinity, opened the gathering with a prayer thanking God for the gifts of respect, tolerance and courtesy about to be practiced and demonstrated with the Celebration of Faith. With Bowen’s prayer, those of us in the sanctuary were reminded that it was an important experience we were about to share.
Ann Miller, president of the Interfaith Partnership, gave a brief summary of each faith prior to the performance. A new religion represented was Baha’i. Among Miller’s comments included the statement that it is considered the “youngest of the world’s independent religions.”
Gretchen Hewitt is a Baha’i. Founded in the mid-19th century in what is now Iran by their prophet Baha’ullah, the Baha’i religion is known for its message of unity: the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, the oneness of religion.
Hewitt described her first song, an original composition, as “words of the Prophet set to a melody reminiscent of African, particularly, Kenyan music.”
Then she played the guitar and sang “The Earth is But One Country.” It was haunting in tune and stark in lyrics, including the line, "Let your vision be world embracing."
Hewitt made us laugh with her rendition of “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir,” and then shared another original song titled “Gather at the Table.” This last song spoke clearly of the unity theme of being “spiritual kin.”
I find that to be a promising expression of who we might discover we are should we put our fears aside and take time to listen and learn from one another.
The Jewish faith is old--4,000 years or older. Andrew Bollinger serves as cantor-soloist and leader of sung prayers and Psalms for B’nai Torah Synagogue, in St. Peters. To give us all a sense of what the Hebrew language sounds like when sung, Bollinger, who sang and played guitar, sang a song titled “Kdusha” composed of verses from the prophets of the Hebrew Bible and the Psalms.
Bollinger sings in a clean, clear voice, and I heard every syllable. In Hebrew--with all those consonants--that is not an easy task! What was also clear to me was his joy in singing these words. So, although I did not understand the words, I understood that they were words of power and meaning through the delivery. This may have been the first time some people in attendance have ever heard Hebrew spoken or sung.
It may also have been the first time or the first time in a long time some people heard Latin sung. The Trinity Episcopal Church choir opened the afternoon with a musical setting of “Agnus Dei,” the Latin term for “Lamb of God,” and refers to Jesus Christ. The Agnus Dei is a liturgical component included in the Eucharist or Holy Communion, which the Episcopal Church celebrates at worship.
Hebrew and Latin may be old languages, but they are not dead languages. They are languages of faith and can waken spiritual thoughts and emotions for many people.
The church choir has been a fixture of the Christian expression of faith for many years. In the last 30 years, the use of praise bands, song leaders and worship teams has increased and for some churches, replacing the choir in worship.
Assumption Catholic Church in O’Fallon filled the front of the church with members of its adult choir. It was the first time that they had participated in the Celebration of Faith, an idea suggested by a choir member, said Peggy Wehmeier, Assumption’s choir director. Bonnie Lang was the soloist in the choir anthem “Before the Sun Goes Down,” and she drew us in with her beautiful singing.
The Rising Generation Youth Choir, comprised of 14 through 18-year-olds, participated for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church. The LDS Church is a young faith, dating to 1830 in upstate New York and its founder Joseph Smith. The young choir followed their director and ably performed “The Mighty Power of God” and made us believe in it, too.
Consider the age range of performers--14 and older! Consider the religions in the room and the beliefs expressed. With the absence of peace in this world, with armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current air strikes over Libya, people sharing this world’s variety of faith in words and music is vital to fostering mutual awareness and understanding.
Our beliefs may differ but we are all linked sharing the same earth, air, water and sunshine.
The Celebrations of Faith are offered here in St. Charles. I urge you to attend the next one.