Hundreds stepped away from the divisiveness gripping the nation this week to join in the 2019 Union County Day of Prayer, with its theme of “Striving to Make a Beloved Community,” held Sept. 24 at the Presbyterian Church of Westfield. Dozens of religious leaders from an array of faiths led a message of one unified community for all.

“In this new era of phobia and cynicism, I am delighted to see you all here tonight,” Rev. Jeremy Jinkins of the Presbyterian Church of Westfield told the audience. “There is a defining beauty in diversity.”

The magnificent display of colorful robes, vestments, and clothing seen throughout the church reinforced that message, as did the thoughts of the clerics in attendance.

Sign Up for Elizabeth Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“I am elated that so many of us from different religious persuasions are here so we can have a better understanding of each other’s cultures,” said Pandit Ramdularr Singh, president of the Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation of New York City. “Also, it offers us the opportunity to highlight something more than tolerance, rather acceptance and respect for each other’s beliefs.”

Navdeep Kaur Tucker of Dashmesh Darbar Gurudwara in Carteret, added, “My hope is that we are able to learn that even if we don’t pray the same, we can still come together in an opportunity of love and life.”

Ali Bhatti of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey came to the evening with two goals.

“I truly feel all religious communities can come together and unite in shared values,” he said. “The prophets and messengers in each religion did more action than preaching. I wanted to send the message of love and unity.

“In addition, I feel Islam is the most misunderstood religion and the prophet Muhammad is the most misunderstood prophet. I wanted to communicate his love and mercy.”

Rabbi Avi Friedman of the Congregation Ohr Shalom in Summit brought to the evening a distinct experience of the challenges to a unified community. He previously served as rabbi at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, where later an anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant shooting took place that killed 11 worshipers during Shabbat morning services.

“It makes me sad that we live in a country that seems to tolerate that kind of violence,” he said. “We need to work together to change that…The way we come together in some of our darkest moments to lift each other up.”

Venerable Kiint Kaevalin of the Dhammakaya Mediation Center in Fanwood, agreed.

“It’s so important for people to come together and realize we’re all one people,” he said. “My master teaches me world peace is inner peace. When each of us has a little bit of inner peace, we can finally have world peace.”

Rev. LL Dubreuil of United Church of Christ in Union was attending her sixth Union County Day of Prayer. She is a founding member of the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council (UCICC) that hosts the event each year.

“The beloved community is actually who we’ve become,” she said. “My thesis is if we gather in good times, we know each other and can work together when times are difficult.”

Also speaking was Sid Blanchard, associate executive director of community relations at Community Access Unlimited, a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports. Blanchard was a driving force behind the creation of UCICC and noted that more than 200 CAU members now attend religious services when few did before the council was formed because they often felt unwelcomed.

“We saw the community was disappearing,” he said. “We decided we had to work with the elements of the community to rebuild the community. And a big part of that are the religious organizations. This (evening) is an act of community.”

To learn more about CAU, visit www.caunj.org or follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About Community Access Unlimited

Community Access Unlimited (CAU), celebrating its 40th year in 2019, supports people with special needs in achieving real lives in the community. CAU gives a voice to adults and youth who traditionally have little power in society, assisting its members with housing, life skills, employment, money management, socialization and civic activities. CAU also supports opportunities for advocacy through training in assertiveness, decision-making and civil rights. Currently serving more than 5,000 individuals and families, CAU continues to grow each year. For more information about CAU and its services, contact us by phone at 908.354.3040, info@caunj.org or by mail at 80 West Grand Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07202.