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Prayer gathering reflects unity of purpose


What is the role of faith in community life? Does the constitutional separation of church and state put government and religion at odds, or can they collaborate to create a better quality of life for all citizens?

Are Fort Wayne’s diverse faith traditions so different in belief that they cannot share common values, come together to pray, and work cooperatively to address such issues as violence, poverty and injustice?

On May 5 at 4 p.m. at the downtown Performing Arts Center of the University of Saint Francis (the former Scottish Rite Auditorium at 431 W. Berry St.), leaders of eight faith traditions will join community leaders in “Prayers for the City: A Celebration of One Community, Many Faiths.”

We will pray together. We will sing together. We will hear readings from Nobel Peace Prize laureates and reflect on wisdom from the scriptures of our community’s diverse faith traditions. We will draw on our rich spiritual resources to find unity in the midst of our differences and commit ourselves to addressing some of our city’s most vexing problems.

Religious faith has always had a prominent role in the public life of our nation and our community. Religion has been a primary factor in shaping the narrative of our history as a people. It has been a significant arbiter of political philosophy and cultural value. It has been a call to action and a resource for response.

As a people, we have come together to pray during such times of national tragedy as 9/11 and Newtown. We have marked our great transitions with communal prayer since the beginning of our nation. The power and meaning of public prayer, of sharing our joys and concerns with God, have long been recognized as a force for the common good in our own community.

As we come together to pray May 5, we recognize that there are significant differences among us. “Prayers for the City” is not an attempt to ignore those differences or reduce our unique traditions to some syncretic philosophy.

We are simply asking all people of faith and good will to pray for our city. We are asking people to come together as a living demonstration of the two great historical mottos of our nation: “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of Many, One”) and “In God We Trust.”

We are inviting the citizens of this great community to find a foundation in faith, a starting place for living together as one people, with compassion and respect for one another, with equality and justice as our shared values.

All the great religious traditions of our world share an expression of the ethic of reciprocity: treat others as you would like to be treated; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is our hope and belief that in coming together to pray, we may make this the defining ethic of our community.

Despite our commitment to the value of shared prayer, we are not so naïve as to believe that prayer in itself is the answer to all our community ills. We applaud, support and participate in concrete efforts to improve the quality of life for all in our community.

Violence, discrimination, poverty and injustice have no place in Fort Wayne. Even as we call people to prayer, we challenge ourselves and our religious traditions to be active in the work of peacemaking and justice-seeking.

We believe in prayer. We also believe in working to ensure that all people have the opportunity to improve their lives, to live without threat of violence, to have a place to live and food to eat, to be regarded with dignity and respect. These are threads that are woven together in the fabric of community.

Since 1850, Fort Wayne has been known as the “City of Churches.” Today, we are an increasingly diverse people. It is equally accurate to recognize our community as the “City of Faiths.” We are proud of the richness this adds to our life together.

The way we negotiate our differences, learn from one another, and seek to understand and respect each other will go far in determining who we will be in the years to come. We are committed to prayer as the core and inspiration of this significant movement forward.

We encourage all citizens to join us May 5.

Tom Henry is mayor of Fort Wayne. Rev. Dr. Terry Anderson is executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Amir J. Tamir Rasheed is with the Islamic Center of Fort Wayne. Dr. Michael Spath is a professor at IPFW. They wrote this for The Journal Gazette.