Pacific Palisades Clergy led the more than 100 residents in a journey of joy, inspiration and community at the 27th annual Interfaith Community Service on November 21 at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine.
Clergy from nine religious’ institutions in the Palisades participated in the service, each one contributing a scripture reading, a blessing or a song that transcended denominational differences to reflect the overarching theme of unity and the happiness of meeting in person.
“We meet together regularly,” said Brother Satyanada of the Self-Realization Fellowship in introducing the service. “There is a strong friendship, and we honor each other’s faiths.”
The Clergy’s friendship was obvious and the teasing, lovely, as they celebrated the theme of Unity in our Hearts. Stayanada said that many felt that people and the country were divided, but reminded that we share the same divineness.
He led those present in a guided meditation of giving thanks and sharing the hearts of those sitting close to one another.
An opening hymn, “We Gather Together,” set the tone for the next speaker, Reverend Christine Purcell of St. Matthew’s Episcopal.
Purcell spoke about “Surprised by Joy,” and the trials that people had experienced in the isolation of Covid, attending Zoom meetings.
“We learned to work from home, we learned to use technology. . . . but we’re here because we believe in community,” she said. “We remember how much we need each other.”
Purcell that the moments of connections, human interactions, the physicality of being next to another person can’t be summoned or felt over technology, but “come to us in unbidden ways and surprise us with joy. Those are moments of sweetness and moments of joy.”
Rabbi Amy Bernstein of the Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation, said “During Covid, we thrived in the mind: we did it really well.” She spoke about how easy it was to hold meetings because when it came time to start, she put everyone on mute.
But, “we’re a touchy-huggy people. We argue and debate, we do this as a sport – this is only sport we’re good at,” Bernstein joked.
“God breathes into the earthling a soul,” she said. “Holding a baby, smelling it. He gives us these gorgeous bodies. In Covid, I learned how much we missed the physical. It’s different when we bring our whole selves. We have to figure a way to be together.”
“The word for wholeness is Shalom,” the rabbi said. “Shalom is the state that occurs when we are whole.” She led the celebrants in chanting “Shalom.”
Trevor Brazier of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints said, “It is a joy and privilege to be here tonight.”
He said for many of us family are the most important thing in the world and we “treat them like they are the most important people in your life.” He said that people should consider who is family, because all are sons of God.
“What should I think about the crazy people?” he asked and answered, “They are literally sons of God. May we broaden our family and may we think about “other as family.”
Reverend Dr. Grace Park of the Presbyterian Church said, “We came together to celebrate tonight. We are one people.” She reminded everyone to be “mindful of all we have,” and said that the clergy had PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) to receive the offerings from the evening.
Soloist Gina Howell sang one of the loveliest versions of “On Eagle’s Wings,” this editor has ever heard.
Dr. Wayne Walters of the Community United Methodist Church, who was speaking on “Unexpected Generosity” joked “I had 15 minutes, but some people took so long . . .”
He looked at the clergy, who had spoken earlier and continued to joke “I do love most of my clergy and I’m working on the rest.”
The warmth, congeniality and respect between the clergy was obvious.
Walters spoke about hiking in the mountains and on one particularly long hike was making his way back, when he came across people who were cooking. They asked, “Would you like something to eat?” He said he was struck by the unexpected kindness.
Reverend KC Robertson of St. Matthew’s, who has only been a member of the Palisades clergy for two months, said she had was hoping she could just observe the first Interfaith, but was pulled in by the rest of the clergy. She read Mary Oliver’s poem “I Happened to Be Standing.” . . . “Do cats pray, while they sleep half-asleep in the sun? . . . . “But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be if it isn’t a prayer?”
Palisades Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Matt Hardin led a pray for Unity before Monsignor Liam Kidney of the Corpus Christi Catholic Church led the benediction.
Kidney said he had been part of the Interfaith service for 25 years. “The length of the benediction will be determined by how long previous speakers have been,” he said, and joked, “sit back we’ll be here awhile.”
He said his dad, who lived in Cork, Ireland told the family, “If we’re all going to be in heaven together, we may as well learn to live together now.
“Thank you for creating me, thank you for keeping me, thank you for the gifts you gave me,” Kidney said and added that we all are God’s children, which makes us one family.
In his plea for unity he added, “There are no democrats in heaven, there are no republicans in heaven, there is no voting in heaven. God will not be asking your opinion in heaven.
“There will only be love. We must recognize that we are all God’s children,” Kidney said. “If anyone asks who you are, tell them ‘I’m a child of God.’”