Last Sunday, over 150 people at Congregation Sinai in San Jose learned what the sacred scriptures of three religious traditions had to say about service to humanity and heard from three local leaders about the challenges that they and their congregations face in living responses to those scriptures.
The event was sponsored by three congregations: Congregation Sinai, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Willow Glen, the Lincoln Glen Church, a Christian church affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren, and the Baitul Basir Mosque in Milpitas, a part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in conjunction with Abrahamic Alliance International and the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council.
The session opened with the words of theologian and ethicist Hans Kung, "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions." The moderator for the evening, Andrew Kille, Chair of SiVIC, noted that the three foundations that make dialogue possible are gratitude, hospitality, and service. He shared the "Dialogue Decalogue" that was developed by Leonard Swidler some years ago, which challenge people to enter dialogue with openness, a willingness to listen and learn, and a commitment to honesty.
Readers from the three traditions then read texts from the Talmud (a commentary on verses from Genesis and Leviticus), from the New Testament, and from the Qur'an related to serving one's fellow humans. Then followed presentations by three religious leaders: Rabbi Josh Berkenwald of Congregation Sinai, Pastor Larry Albright of Lincoln Glen Church, and Imam Mubasher Ahmad of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Although there were differences of emphasis and detail, it was evident that the different religious groups shared much not only in their core commitments to service, but in the challenges that they face in putting the ideal into practice. The challenges of staying faithful to spiritual values in the midst of the high-tech and materialistic environment of Silicon Valley, the many demands made on time and energy, and simply not being aware of what other communities are involved in are just some of those challenges.
After time for questions and answers, there was a film of a joint service project that had involved Congregation Sinai, Lincoln Glen Church, and the South Bay Islamic Association to build peace by serving 220 meals to the hungry and homeless at Cityteam Men's Recovery Center in San Jose. Another joint service project is planned for next week.
Moving from the sanctuary to the social hall, participants then had an opportunity to meet one another for conversation. Over refreshments that had been prepared, they were asked to find at least three people they did not know, and to share about what they learned in the presentations, and about their "faith heroes." Much of the conversation involved wondering when this kind of gathering might happen again, and how the congregations could find ways to work more closely together in the future.