Interfaith service led by UCC kicks off Cleveland’s ‘Welcoming Week’
Global Cleveland’s “Welcoming Week,” a celebration and acknowledgement of international people who have made northeast Ohio their home, kicked off with a virtual interfaith service Sept. 11, organized by the United Church of Christ.
Joe Cimperman, president and CEO of Global Cleveland, which has been providing opportunities and support for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers since 2011, thanked the UCC — one of several sponsors of “Welcoming Week” — for bringing together community leaders from diverse religious backgrounds.
“It is only right that we begin our fifth annual ‘Welcoming Week’ with the United Church of Christ,” said Cimperman, expressing his own gratitude for the UCC’s vision and mission of a “just world for all.”
The Rev. Mark Pettis, ecumenical minister for the UCC, affirmed the denomination’s commitment to justice work by highlighting an interreligious statement put forth by the UCC, which states “… inspired by God’s grace, we welcome all, love all and seek justice for all. Love is at the center of our calling and our witness in the world.”
Pettis also acknowledged the poignancy of the interfaith service falling on the 22nd anniversary of 9/11.
“We gather, quite conscious of what this date means,” said Pettis, recalling how the great sense of community immediately following the attack on the Twin Towers gave way to a “dramatic rise in anti-Muslim speech and action.”
Faten Odeh, interim executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations’ Cleveland chapter, knows of that hate all too well. Odeh shared how she was in middle school in North Carolina on that fateful day.
“I went from having a ton of friends to being told to go back to my country,” she said. “Sadly, I cannot remember a world before 9/11.”
That experience, though, her in becoming an ambassador for her religion, she added.
Broadening the definition of neighbor
After thanking Global Cleveland for creating “Welcoming Week” and noting how “our collective witness is important,” the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC General Minister and President, turned to Jesus’ words about loving your neighbor as yourself and emphasized the importance of broadening the definition of “neighbor.”
“Our neighbors are people we meet in the street every day, strangers we meet along the way … Our neighbors are those far away,” she said.
Thompson, who was born in Jamaica and moved to the United States as a teen, recalled the loving support her family received, but added that many do not have such support.
“I am thankful that Cleveland has been a place where people can find a new home. I am thankful for this community who understand what it means to love and care,” said Thompson.
The Rev. Allen Harris, regional minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Ohio, echoed Thompson’s words on loving neighbors by lifting the immigration narrative woven throughout scripture.
From Abraham and Sarah to Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, “working diligently with refugees and asylum seekers is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition,” he said.
With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, beginning Sept. 15, Rabbi Scott Roland, president of the Greater Cleveland Board of Rabbis, offered an illustrative lesson on redeeming love by explaining the use of the shofar during the high holy days.
An ancient instrument fashioned out of a ram’s horn, Roland pointed out how the shofar is narrow at one end and wide at the other.
“When we call out to God from a place of narrowness and stress, God responds with wideness and openness,” he explained.
He added, too, that when the shofar is blown, it starts with a whole not followed by several broken notes then ending with a whole note once again. “Our world has been a place of broken notes lately, but may we now be blessed with wholeness and peace,” said Roland before blowing the shofar.
The Rev. Adrienne Koch, priest associate of Trinity Cathedral Episcopal Church, and Sensei Dean Williams, guiding teacher of Crooked River Zen Center, then offered a common message of the importance of finding commonality amid differences.
Koch spoke on how the Anglican practice via media — which is Latin for “the middle way” — helped her own spiritual growth, citing how the middle way wasn’t about compromise for the sake of peace but rather about comprehension for the sake of truth. Williams remarked how in Buddhism there is the “middle path” which avoids two extremes in life and is “at the heart of our teaching on compassion and kindness.”
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