So, an iman, a rabbi, and a Presbyterian minister met in a parking lot…
To be precise, they met on the afternoon of Sept. 11 in the parking lot of the Islamic Center of Boulder (Colorado) along with 150 members from local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith groups. They congregated to commemorate, celebrate and cross-pollinate with an organized “Walk for Peace and Solidarity.”
This unlikely band of men, women, and children gathered to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. While not uncommon for interfaith groups to recall the tragic events of 9/11, this group had an additional and much more personal reason to gather.
The buildings of the three main participants ― the Islamic Center, Congregation Har HaShem, and St. Andrew Presbyterian Church ― are lined up just blocks from each other along one of Boulder’s busiest thoroughfares. They also sit squarely in the floodplain of Boulder Creek, a normally tranquil trickle that roared to life during the worst deluge in Colorado history on 9/11/13.
According to St. Andrew pastor and event co-coordinator the Rev. Stan Adamson, “This date happened to coincide with the one year anniversary of the 2013 floods that devastated Boulder. Muslims at the Islamic Center, who had experienced flooding in the basement of their building, were deeply moved that it was Christians and Jews who came to help them clean up.”
Indeed, the walk served as a joyful show of celebration for acts of goodwill, cooperation, and friendship.
Finally, the event organizers affirmed the local cross-pollination opportunities that are allowing these ancient faith groups to shed their inhibitions and really get to know each other. “Jesus taught us that the second of the two great commandments from the Torah (Leviticus 19:18) calls upon us not just to tolerate, but rather to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves,’” Adamson stated.
“September 11 can be redeemed as Jews, Christians, Muslims, and members of other faith groups learn to love each other as individuals, and not allow external prejudices to be imposed,” he added. “We tried to model this friendship with a walk ― not a protest or demonstration ― but a celebration of our solidarity as neighbors.”
Joining this interfaith event was the newly-minted moderator of the 221st Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, Heath Rada. “As Moderator, I am participating in this event (to show) that the PCUSA embraces our fellow human beings and does not affirm the hatred and divisions which the radical elements of all of our faiths hide behind to support their selfish motives,” Rada said. “Our denomination has had a reputation of being a force for justice for many years. Likewise, the Lord we serve modeled for us the importance of being peacemakers.”
Rada continued: “It weighs heavy on my heart that our world is so divided in regard to religions that we are willing to kill one another. The commemoration of Sept. 11 in Boulder provided people of different faith traditions (an opportunity) to join hands and show our unity and our support for positive relations. Though we may differ in our understandings and interpretations of God, we share a belief in the goodness of each other and our desire to stand up for justice and to provide hope to those who feel hopeless. Sept 11 is a day of remorse and horror. May we seek to find ways to turn it into a day for coming together as peacemakers.”
Moderator Rada and his wife, Peggy, had one more reason to join the walk. Their daughter and her family are members of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. “(We) wished to join with them in (this) demonstration of their community outreach,” the moderator said. “They invited along their seven year-old granddaughter, Anna Grace, to show what they hope will become normative in her future.”
So, what’s the punch line to the seemingly disparate spiritual leaders who met in a parking lot?
The imam says Salaam,
The rabbi says Shalom,
The minister says Peace.
No joke... only when we say it, walk it, and do it together can we give peace a chance!
The Rev. Vicki Fogel Mykles is a Presbyterian minister and free-lance communicator living in Ft. Collins, Colo. She is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.