There is little that strikes me with more trepidation than the phrase “interfaith prayer.” In fact, the little that strikes me with more trepidation is “interfaith prayer breakfast.” They are endeavors that emerge almost entirely from the Protestant religious ethos and they are never quite what I hope they will be. That is to say, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and so I never completely enter the experience – I am always partly an outsider.
The fact that I am making two exceptions to my diverse-averse neurosis in less than 24 hours ought to impress you. Well, it impresses me, at least.
The second and more familiar event is our annual erev Thanksgiving interfaith service. For well over a quarter of a century, we have spent the evening with Westminster Presbyterian and Trinity United Methodist (and others who come and go) giving thanks for the common blessings we share that enable us to be different from one another. This year, the service will be hosted by Westminster (corner of Cameron Mills Road and Monticello) on Wednesday, November 26, beginning at 8:00 p.m.
You will be tempted to pass on the evening because the family is gathering the next day and it’s good night to just kick back and relax. Fight your lethargy and come to church. The good people who gather for this event are long-time friends, and it is one of the few times we can rekindle the warm memories of their support for us during our renovation. Besides, the evening always turns out to be perfectly lovely and uplifting. The other shoe never drops.
The first and brand-new event is Mayor Bill Euille’s prayer breakfast that same morning. Mayor Euille has put together a terrific group of religious voices from our community – people of the proverbial “all races, creeds and colors.” It will take place at the Hilton Mark Center on Seminary Road from 8:00 to 9:30 and costs $25. (You can call 703-683-4573 or e-mail for more information.)
Here’s what’s different about this prayer breakfast: seats will be assigned randomly at what they are calling “Unity Tables,” designed to enable people from around Alexandria to get to know each other. An interfaith planning group has been carefully addressing the sensitivities of language and vocabulary to emphasize our common ground without obscuring our diversity. Yes, it’s early. Yes, it’s expensive (though assistance is available). And yes, the food will almost certainly be a problem. But from the start, the Jewish community’s involvement was deemed essential.
These two events will not give you a year’s inoculation against prejudice and misunderstanding. The individual relationships we build with each other and between our institutions will facilitate our personal growth and the enhancement of the world around us. They are, however, a place to start. My guess is that without these vaguely uncomfortable opportunities, most of us would never look for a different first step.
And when I sit down among family on Thanksgiving Day and respond to the inevitable “what are you thankful for,” I expect to be able to say that I am thankful to have had these opportunities to join my neighbors in contributing to the greater good.