Interfaith seder provides plenty of food for thought

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2010 - 3:02 PM

Although only in its third year, the annual Passover seder sponsored by the St. Paul Interfaith Network can be declared a resounding success. In fact, had anyone else shown up for last weekend's program, they would have ended up sitting in the hall.

The program was led by Rabbi Amy Eilberg from the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas and St. John's University.

Instructional seders, in which the rituals are explained to non-Jews, are not unusual. What set this one apart was that between the lessons Eilberg incorporated an interfaith dialogue that involved a wide range of beliefs.

Among those participating were a Christian (the Rev. Shawn Moore), Muslim (Yusuf Wazirzada), Buddhist (Mayo-O Marilyn Habermas-Scher), Hindu (Suhag Shukla) and Baha'i (Nancy Wong).

At Passover, which starts at sunset Monday, Jews tell the story of the Israelites' escape from slavery and exodus from Egypt. It's not just a Jewish story, Eilberg said.

"All great religious traditions teach and reflect on the themes that are central to this narrative: love of justice, empathy for the oppressed and belief in the possibility of a world transformed," she explained. Each of the guest speakers was invited to address how these issues are reflected in their faith.

The seder drew 200 people, a crowd that packed the hall at the Temple of Aaron Congregation in St. Paul to the point that organizers were scrambling to find seats for everyone. They managed to do that, but they probably need to start looking for a bigger room for next year.

A rare reprise

In 1931, the Brussels Conservatory came up with a unique idea for a Holy Week program: A narrator read French poet Paul Claudel's "The Stations of the Cross" poem, pausing after each of the 14 stanzas while organist Marcel Dupré improvised a musical meditation on the words that had just been read.

Organizers weren't sure how the program would go over. Dupré's compositions were on the esoteric side, leading a fellow organist to write that his music ranged from very difficult to play to nearly impossible. Nonetheless, the show was a hit, and Dupré, with his wife as narrator, staged it annually for several years.

The success led Dupré to finally write down the music, but because of its complexity, it's rarely performed. Philip Brunelle, organist at Plymouth Congregational Church, has decided to take on the challenge. The performance, with the poem being read both in English and its original French, is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the church, 1900 Nicollet Av. S., Minneapolis. Admission is free.

'Friend' a church

If Facebook were a country, its 400 million members would make it the third-largest nation in the world, trailing only China and India. So it probably was only a matter of time until someone tried to "plant" a church on Facebook.

Northland, a mega-church that, despite its name, is based in Orlando, has started a Facebook church that comes complete with its own minister.

This is only the third weekend that services have been held (Saturday at 4 p.m., Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Monday at 6 p.m.), so it's too early to get a feel for the response. But Northland likes being on the cutting edge of technology. In July it launched its own iPhone app, enabling its 12,000 members to watch videos of past services.

To visit the new church, go to apps.facebook.com/northlandchurch.

Art installation

First Universalist Church of Minneapolis is installing a 14-foot sculpture in its atrium Sunday. The sculpture, made by member Kristen Mengelkoch, depicts a chalice holding flames, a representation of the fire of love. The installation ceremony will follow the 11 a.m. service at the church, 3400 Dupont Av. S.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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