NEW HAVEN >> Trinity Episcopal Church kicked off its building’s bicentennial on the Green Sunday by celebrating the diversity of the faith community in Greater New Haven.
The evening interfaith service started with a chant by Zen Abbot Paul Bloom and continued with prayers, songs and remarks by leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Congregational, Baptist and Lutheran churches, as well as from political leaders.
Trinity’s existence on the New Haven Green is due to the developing tolerance in 1812 by the Congregational Church, when it allowed Trinity to build its house of worship.
The Congregationalists, whose roots go back to the Puritans, dominated religious and political life in the city in the early 19th century and there were tensions with the Anglican Church’s ties to England.
But things were quickly evolving to a more Democratic community and by 1818, Connecticut had a new Constitution that severed the religion-government tie — the last state to do so.
The Rev. Luk De Volder, rector of Trinity, said in 2016 it is important to “connect with the remarkable American heritage of religious tolerance” as the global community faces tremendous challenges.
De Volder said there is a need for more tolerance in religious remarks, as well as in civic discourse. He made a plea for tolerance also in the struggle against cynicism.
De Volder advised the parishioners and visitors that tolerance is not a utopian dream
“Tolerance has been triumphant in America before. Indeed, our order of tolerance and compassion took time and effort to grow, but today we can reconnect with this political and religious American legacy … that is unmatched among the countries of the world,” he said.
The service was meant to contribute to the larger dream of tolerance through the “oxygen” of interfaith prayer, he said.
Iman Omer Bajwa, coordinator of Muslim Life at Yale, chose a passage from the Quran that referred to the common ancestry of humans.
“Truly, We created you from a male and a female, and We made you peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another,” Bajwa read.
Bajwa said the purpose of all those racial, ethnic, religious and cultural differences “ is to gain a deeper appreciation of the reality of the human condition.
“It is both a blessing and test from God. There are people who love the diversity and move beyond tolerance and go into appreciation and there are others who use it for divisive purposes, which is what we are seeing too often in the world today,” he said.
Bajwa said in his work at Yale he advises young people to get to know one another’s cultural stories and narratives and then be able to reciprocate.
Rabbi Herbert Brockman of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden said “love of God is reflected only in our love of all humanity and all of God’s creation. The crown of that creation is humanity.”
The main sermon was given by the Rev. Ian Oliver, senior associate chaplain for Prortestant life and pastor of the University Church at Yale.
Oliver, who has been doing interfaith work for 25 years, talked about the “simple virtue of neighborliness.”
He said neighborliness is the recognition of how people are tied together by shared experiences in a community.
Oliver speculated that in the end, the theological enmity between the Congregationalists and the Anglicans finally dissolved, after they looked at each other as neighbors.
“Neighborliness is the recognition that we share space …,” that people can could do more together than alone, Oliver said.
He warned against demagogues who peddle suspicions about other groups.
“The change we need today isn’t for our Muslims or Jewish or Buddhist neighbors to get out and convince folks they are OK,” Oliver said.
Comparing it to the mind set of the Congregationalists, ultimately in the end, he said it was they who had to change their minds.
Trinity, one of the three iconic churches on the Green, plans a year of events to celebrate its bicentennial and its place in New Haven’s history.