Global documentary, featuring Long Island faith community, plans watch parties May 14-22
“Fear comes from ignorance.”
Words spoken by a Christian minister from Long Island, N.Y., underscore the premise of a documentary making its international debut on May 16.
Brookville Church, a dually affiliated United Church of Christ and Reformed Church in America congregation, is featured in the film — along with the other interfaith groups it shares space with, in one building, on the Brookville Multifaith Campus.
“All of Us,” by Belgian filmmaker Pierre Pirard, brings to life Jesus’ prayer and assertion, “that they may all be one.”
He chose to premiere the documentary on the International Day of Living Together in Peace, as declared by the United Nations.
‘This is the future’
“This documentary aims to be a source of inspiration by showing the stories of women and men who, in the four corners of the planet, dare to take the step towards the other, whatever the existing tensions or prejudices,” notes the film’s trailer.
The 90-minute documentary tells eight stories of people in community despite societal odds in Bosnia, Lebanon, Indonesia, Senegal and the United States.
The Brookville Multifaith Campus is featured as a place where interfaith families along with others of different traditions can find a spiritual home, as equal partners.
“Everyone is welcome to everything we do — faith or no faith,” said the Rev. Vicky Eastland, Brookville Church pastor. “I believe for the Christian church, this is the future of how we are meant to minister. Until we can be with people of other faiths, we can never bring peace into the world.”
Honoring interfaith families
Eastland was called to Brookville Church in 2012. Just over a year later, four faith communities celebrated their union, committing to share the same facility. A Christian church, a Jewish synagogue, a Muslim study and prayer group and an interfaith group that honors the Jewish and Christian traditions of each parent and educates the children in both faiths are housed on the Brookville campus.
The Interfaith Community of Long Island chose the location to help educate children of Jewish and Christian parents. The New Synagogue of Long Island was formed by Rabbi Stuart Paris to support and be part of the community. The Muslim Reform Movement Organization, led locally by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed, had long been holding weekly Quran studies at Brookville Church, and chose the facility to be its permanent home.
All three leaders share one vision, Eastland said, to “bring reform to our respective faith traditions and to build bridges of peace between world religions.
“The big piece to us is the inclusion of interfaith families. We want to be a place of healing and recognition for those families — a shared space of healing and reconciliation.”
The sanctuary is a church on Sunday mornings and a synagogue on Friday nights. For the interfaith families, their church and synagogue share the same worship space.
“The Torah sits behind the Christian pulpit. We feel it’s an important statement,” Eastland said. “We are unified. We share a home. The church is the hosting entity but all of the communities are home here. All the names are on the sign – permanently. This is a chosen relationship. This is where we want to be.”
“Very quickly in talking with Rev. Vicky, I realized how much the message she was conveying, the vision she was expressing, was in line with the values of openness and inclusion that I wanted the film to contain,” said filmmaker Pirard. “It was obvious to me that this parish should be one of the eight stories in the documentary.
“Rev. Vicky said a key phrase that we included in the film’s trailer: ‘Fear comes from ignorance.’ This sentence sums up the film so well: to go to the other, to the one who is different, (is) to simply have a richer life.”
Example for others
“In a culture where we are witnessing an increase in the number of multifaith families, where the practice of multiple religious belonging is expanding, the approach of Brookville — to welcome such exploration and to avoid pigeon-holing families and children into preset categories — reflects an impressive understanding,” said the Rev. Mark Pettis, the UCC ecumenical officer. “We speak in the United Church of Christ about ‘meeting people where they are’ in their life’s faith journey, and such an approach demonstrates a commitment to live out this bold claim.”
There is outside interest in that commitment, even before the film’s debut.
In late April, Eastland had a meeting with her local interfaith partners and a clergy pair from Denver who want to replicate what the Brookville community is doing on their campus. “It reemphasized to me, hearing the stories of our interfaith families, how hurt they were when they found us. For being rejected because they married outside of their faith. We want them to be able to worship freely as an entire family.
“We don’t want to be the only place doing this — because we believe in this mission so much.”
The world will get an opportunity to see how the three faith traditions thrive as they coexist in Pirard’s documentary. He and his team spent a week with the interfaith community on Long Island in 2018, their last stop in travels that took them to several countries.
The crew filmed the one shared worship service the Brookville community does every year – at Thanksgiving. It combines elements of all three religions, and the faith leaders preach from each other’s Holy Scriptures as a way of honoring the other traditions.
‘Not melding religions’
“We are not melding religions,” Eastland said. “We are staying true to our own faiths and everyone is welcome to attend. But we are not synchronizing our faiths.”
What they are doing, she said, is coming together to enrich each individual religion. She gave an example of how that works: the Christian church invited the other groups to join its prayer chain.
“So now we have Muslims, Christians and Jews praying for the same needs,” she said. “It’s powerful to have people of all three Abrahamic faiths praying together. People will argue we don’t believe in the same God, but this shows that we do. I feel like we are connecting to the same God. There’s not even a question in my mind.”
Her community has learned so much about each other, she said, and cross-cultural education is equipping their children. “By worshiping side by side with religions other than in their household, they feel they will be better able to navigate the world.”
Watch parties scheduled
The film crew spent months, pre-COVID, documenting people of different beliefs living together in harmony, who have found ways of reinventing family, education, social relations, culture and work. So Eastland said when she heard, “Nowhere we have been on this globe have we witnessed anything you are doing here,” she was shocked.
Eastland said Pirard had hoped to release the documentary in person in a number of locales in 2020, but the pandemic changed his plans. He came up with the idea of an “All of Us” global watch party that will bring together over 300 worldwide partners, viewing the film in several languages in more than 47 countries.
The documentary will be screened in partnership with organizations that have planned watch parties and will be sharing links to the film around the May release. The links, shared by the filmmaker, will be accessible from May 14-22. Brookville Church has planned its watch party for May 15.
“We are living in what may well be the most divisive time in history,” Pettis said. “For a faith community, like Brookville, to model a place of cooperation and welcome, their ministry stands in stark contrast with the destructive and divisive tendencies of the broader culture. The church, despite the call of Christ, is often seen as overly exclusive and judgmental. Brookville, and congregations like them, offer a counter example, and demonstrate that a faith community can (and should) be guided by love and acceptance.”
As Eastland said, “Go find somebody who is different from you. It will open up a whole new world for you.”
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