Hudson -- Religious leaders believe their "First Serve, Serve First" event was a success. There were 758 participants on Sept. 11 from three different faith communities -- Jewish, Muslim and Christian.
They worshipped together in the sanctuary at First Congregational Church of Hudson by incorporating traditions from Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious services before heading out into the community for clean-up projects.
The day was completed with a cultural food fest celebration featuring more than 15 local food vendors who donated food samples.
"First Serve, Serve First" emerged out of a service conducted by First Congregational Church of Hudson for the town on the Village Green on September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, according to the Rev. Peter Wiley, senior pastor at First Congregational Church of Hudson.
"That service on the Green led us to decide that we should begin each church year (September) by serving first before doing anything else," Wiley said. "And even more, developing relationships where there were no relationships before.
"I am deeply thankful for the response of the people from First Congregational Church, as well as our partners this year from Temple Beth Shalom and the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent, as well as many other groups that decided to join with us," Wiley said. "They all got it. They knew there is nothing we can do in the world that is more profound than working side by side with those we may not have known before and developing binding friendship."
Kim Strausser, co-president at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, said the clean-up work was "a terrific experience."
"I'm so proud of our younger members helping, along with their parents, with clean-ups at different locations throughout northeast Ohio," she said. "Parents and children of all three groups worked hard together to help clean up around fire stations and park areas. When I saw the young people at the cultural food fest afterward, they were smiling and happy but tired and their parents looked happy and proud, too."
Ahmad Deeb, administrative director of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent, said he felt "incredibly blessed to be a part of such a diverse congregation."
"The Muslim community in America contains every race, color and ethnicity in the world, and here we have a beautiful microcosm of that," Deeb said. "I was incredibly proud to see our diverse congregation come out and represent arguably the very essence of our Muslim faith: unity, love and service."
After the interfaith service, Wiley said he has had "few moments in my years of ministry that have touched me so deeply as sharing with ISAK's Imam Nadar Taha and the Temple's Rabbi Jim Egolf. To share in worship acknowledging that we are distinctly Jew, Muslim and Christian, and yet in God's eyes we are called to know that we are sisters and brothers as well. I am grateful to be able to call them my friends."
Strausser said the interfaith service was "beautiful and moving."
"I felt the service and gathering respected my faith and celebrated our differences and commonalities," she said.
Deeb said the interfaith service was "profoundly simple in its philosophy, which made me appreciate it even more."
"I truly believe that if more religious institutions, or even just different pockets of our multicultural community, came together more often in service, the divides and mistrust that we find rampant nationally would not have any room to fester, no matter who it is that calls toward these divides," Deeb said.
Strausser said as faith communities, "we should all be trying to do good things in the world and for the world."
"This event allowed three groups that do not necessarily work together to have an opportunity to work beside each other in an effort to get to know each other and appreciate each other," she said.
Wiley added, "The truth is, we have far more that ought to bind us together than that which should separate us. We would do well to spend more time on what we share -- which is a lot."