A rabbi, a priest, and an imam all sat down for dinner at Grace Farms…
No that isn’t a beginning of a joke, it was my dinner last Tuesday when I joined 75 other individuals in a beautiful dining room at Grace Farms in New Canaan. The evening program was an Interfaith Passover Seder and dialogue co-hosted by the Interfaith Council of Southwest Connecticut and Grace Farms Foundation.
Before the Seder, I sat with the Rev. Mark Lingle, Rector of St. Francis’, Stamford, to talk about the Council, the Seder, and what it is like to work closely with an Imam and a Rabbi. Mark was one of the three panelists for a post-Seder dialogue with Rabbi Joshua Hammerman of Temple Beth El, Stamford, and Dr. Kareem Adeeb, former Board President of the American Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies.
“Once you can recognize the authenticity and religious traditions you have to step away from the absolutist of Christianity,” Mark said about working with Joshua and Kareem. “I still am Christian and the narrative and liturgy still speaks to me and frames my way in the world, but I don’t see Jesus as the ‘only’ way.”
Mark has been a member of the Council going on 17 years, right about when the Council was running low on funding and decided to become a bit more creative. Before, funding came from parishes, synagogues, and mosques nearby – and some still contribute – however, while religious institution’s finances are dwindling, so are the non-profits they support. “The reality is we are just showing up and that seems to be good,” Mark said about participating in this volunteer-based organization.
And showing up is exactly what they are doing, and it is good. After the recent tragedies of Parkland, FL, Christchurch, NZ, and Pittsburgh, PA, the Council was at the heart of rallies in downtown Stamford – supporting each other and making a stand against gun violence. The Council also hosts memorials, education seminars, interfaith conversations, a popular Interfaith Iftar (nightly meal during Ramadan), and other community-focused events. “There is a real hunger to do things,” Mark said, “and the Council has been a response and collaborator for the community.”
Mark walked me into the glass-enclosed large dining room nestled in one of the various curvatures of Grace Farm’s River Building.There were already over 60 people grabbing dinner, and sitting in three long tables. I found myself at a table with a married interfaith couple (Christian/Judaism), and a former Catholic. After some mingling time and conversations about how beautiful the sunset was over the old horse-farm property, the program began.
“These gatherings are essential to human flourishing,” Lisa Lynne, Community Initiative Director for Grace Farms Foundation, said in her opening remarks. “Grace Farms loves this interfaith Seder. People from different world views and traditions come together honestly.”
This was the third annual Seder at Grace Farms, each year there is a different theme – this year, the theme was Forgiveness and Remembrance. Rabbi Joshua leads the whole gathering through a half-hour interactive, humorous, please-ask-questions, and very informal Seder using a children’s Haggadah, the text used at a Passover Seder. This included an expedited Urchatz, or washing of the hands, where volunteers rand around with squirt bottles spritzing the hands of those present.
To close the gathering, there was a panel with the priest, rabbi, and imam about forgiveness, remembrance, and identity. The panel was moderated by Dr. Matthew Croasman of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. The questions asked were both deeply theological and practical, such as “Are there things that are unforgiveable?” “What does it mean to forgive?” and “How does one truly forgive?” Each of which prompted different answers from the panelists, heavily influenced by the faith backgrounds and teachings associated with the three Abrahamic faiths represented.
And yet, what I realized by the end of the evening was that although their answers to the various questions were different in rhetoric, they were similar at the core. A priest, a rabbi, and an imam all sat down for dinner at Grace Farms and realized that we are all called to forgive, because we are made in the image of a forgiving God.