The mission of the Interfaith Circle, said board member Joan Howe-Pullis on Jan. 21, is “to celebrate the commonality and diversity of our faith traditions by fostering understanding and acceptance, and we hope that our time together tonight contributed to understanding and acceptance.”
She was speaking at the conclusion of a World Religion Sunday event organized and hosted by Interfaith Circle and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, with the theme of “What We Hold Sacred.” Members of several different faith traditions shared prayers, songs, dance, readings, and reflections centered on the sacred.
Among the speakers were Sheldon Wolfchild of the Dakota Nation and Kathie Case of the Eden Prairie Historical Society. The story of their collaboration on the rematriation of a Sacred Red Rock formerly located in Eden Prairie that was once and, now, is again used in ceremony by the Dakota Nation inspired the Interfaith Circle in identifying the theme of the 2024 event.
“In our belief system, we believe that the rocks are our relatives. It goes back to our creation story,” Wolfchild said, explaining that the Dakota creation story considers that the Creator created all beings on Mother Earth for a purpose, and that all are related.
In regard to people, “The bottom line is, we’re all human beings, we’re two-leggeds, and it’s about love and goodness and respect for one another,” Wolfchild said.
Speaking of Sunday’s event, which included choral performances by the Minnesota Saints Chorale of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Pax Christi Choir from Eden Prairie’s Pax Christi Catholic Community and a combined interfaith choir, Wolfchild said, “That’s the beauty of the voices of such a large choir. That beauty in their voices to put that song together is powerful. It’s love, it’s goodness, it’s all together through music.”
World Religion Day
Although the Interfaith Circle has been active in Eden Prairie for 20 years, according to board member Rev. Trish Sullivan Vanni of Charis Ecumenical Catholic Community, the 2024 event was only its second annual community gathering for World Religion Day. In years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group regularly hosted events around the Thanksgiving timeframe. The change, Vanni said, was in part due to people having more availability in January.
World Religion Day as a focus was a suggestion from an Interfaith Circle board member who follows the Bahá’í Faith. The observance, Nanette Missaghi of the Eden Prairie Bahá’í Community explained to those gathered at Immanuel on Sunday, grew from a 1947 speech on “World Peace Through World Religion” and by 1950 was standardized by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States to take place on the third Sunday of January.
The two Bahá’í tenets behind World Religion Day, Missaghi said, are the oneness of humanity and progressive religion, “all religions come from the same Creator.” Early in the event, Missaghi said to those attending, “Recognizing that all the divine messages come from the same source should unite us rather than divide us. Today, on World Religion Day, we have the opportunity to come together in the spirit of learning from each other, to break down the barriers of mistrust and religious hatred.” She also invited attendees to, “In this new year, let’s seek out new ways to come together in friendship, prayer, love, fellowship, and worship.”
Jewish, Christian perspectives on commandments
Rabbi Harold Kravitz of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association addressed such barriers in his presentation, stating, “In these polarized times, when people retreat to their corners, wanting to only be with those with whom they agree politically and religiously, we cannot take for granted the importance of this gathering to acknowledge and honor our similarities.”
Kravitz referenced “the very first chapter of the Torah, when God is about to create human beings and says, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness,’ teaching us that every human being, regardless of gender, race or religion, or any other difference, is created in the image of God.” In Judaism, Kravitz said, adherents of the faith seek that which is miraculous and holy in the everyday, lifting up mundane actions to a level of holiness to remind themselves of the holiness of each of God’s creations.
The theme of the event, he said, led him to think of the 19th chapter of the book of Leviticus, the book of the Torah which describes sacred and ritual practices sometimes translated as commandments. Chapter 19 includes God speaking through Moses in verse 2 to tell the Israelite community to say, “You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy,” and also, Kravitz said, verse 33, “which says, ‘When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not harm them.’”
The theme of the event led him to reflect on the 19th chapter of Leviticus, a book in the Torah that details sacred practices often interpreted as commandments,” he said. “This chapter includes God’s message through Moses in verse 2, ‘You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.’ Kravitz also highlighted verse 33, which instructs, ‘When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not harm them.’
Pastor Paul Nelson, senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, also spoke of the importance of commandments, specifically the Ten Commandments found in the sacred writings that Christians refer to as the Old Testament.
Explaining that Martin Luther, the founder of the denomination within Christianity known as Lutheranism, wrote a Small Catechism booklet to aid families in teaching faith in the home that included Luther’s short explanations of these Commandments, Nelson said, “While we know most of the Commandments as prohibitions, the beautiful part of his explanation was that it gives us an invitation to think about the Commandments as not just the behavior that we do not do but all kinds of wonderful behavior that we engage in purposefully to be a blessing to one another.”
Nelson and other members of Immanuel then read the Commandments and explanations from Luther’s Small Catechism.
Divine guidance, diverse experiences
The event included a reading from the first chapter of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, with Dr. Tamim Saidi of Northwest Islamic Community Center reading the English translation and Shaykh Saifullah Muhammad of Islamic Resource Center reading the Arabic. Their reading of “The Opening” included verses which ask for God’s guidance on human behavior, with the translation as read by Saidi saying, “You alone we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path, to the path of those to whom you have graced your favor, not the path of those who have incurred your anger and not the path of those who have gone astray.”
Carolyn VandenDolder of the Minneapolis Society of Friends, a religious group known as Quakers, also spoke of divine guidance, saying Quakers believe “that we each have a divine spark, an inner light, the divine seed, that can help guide us, search us, hold us accountable in our errors, challenge us in our complacency and give us the courage and insight to redress our mistakes.”
VandenDolder also spoke of Quakers’ varied experiences of the divine. Although most in this region of the U.S. generally worship in expectant waiting, “sitting silently, listening for the still, small voice of the Divine,” she said, “the experience of the Divine is so personal, and the process individuals use to receive that experience so varied you will likely get as many different responses to the topic ‘what Quakers hold sacred’ as the number of people you ask. You might hear responses of nature, silence, nonviolence, community.”
Howe-Pullis also touched on nonviolence in her closing remarks, in which she said, “As people formed and nurtured by diverse faith communities, let us stand with one voice to boldly reject all forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Let’s stand together with our Jewish and Muslim neighbors who face increased hateful stereotypes, harassment and violence. Let us courageously speak out against injustice and bigotry wherever we encounter it, offering love, inclusion and respect for our local and global neighbors as we work together to build a world of peace and light.”
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