Unity in Diversity

by Susan Anderson

Last month at the regular first Thursday Interfaith Council meeting, a guest commented that he had never been to such a gathering before. He didn’t know that folks from different religions could get along.

The qualities of unity in diversity characterize the Bainbridge Island / North Kitsap Interfaith Council. Over 20 different faith groups gather monthly to share ideas, prayers, community projects and fellowship.

For fourteen years, the Council has sponsored a community Thanksgiving Service the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. This year’s theme: “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.” Over 200 people gathered at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church to share prayers and music. An offering is collected for a designated non-profit; this year it was the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center (kitsapiac.org). KIAC Legal Services Director Ray Garrido shared two heartfelt stories from his experience working with immigrants, one with a happy ending, one heartbreakingly sad. He invited everyone to find a way to reach out to help immigrants longing for safety from dangerous situations. The service began with the mellifluous Men’s Compline choir from St. Cecilia’s Catholic Parish and concluded with Jeffrey Brown from Chavurat Shir Hayam, who led a call-and-response reading of Emma Lazurus’ famous poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It is hard to describe the feeling of love, respect, and joy that arose in the crowd from the beauty of the music, the simplicity and humility of the prayers, the comradery of the whole congregation singing, “ We Shall Overcome”. Everyone was invited to “Pass the Peace” by looking the person next to you in the eyes, then standing a bit behind that person, placing a hand on their shoulder, as if to say, “I have your back” and then saying to the person, “Peace be with you.” People shared that love all around them. The power of love was evident and won’t stop with one evening, but continue to bless all those with whom we come in contact.

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