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Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association

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Approximately a dozen clergy members stood for equality at a Setauket intersection June 5.

Members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association gathered on the southeast and northeast corners of Route 25A and Bennetts Road/North Country Road. On the muggy Friday, with signs in hand, the peaceful protesters wanted to let the community know that black lives matter. The protest was in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer.

The Rev. Linda Anderson, community minister in affiliation with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, said it was important to organize the event with faithful people from different religions.

“We wanted to show people that we can stand together for peace and for justice, and that is what our faiths ask us,” she said.

The Rev. Gregory Leonard, of Setauket’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and one of the founding members of the grassroots organization Building Bridges in Brookhaven, said when it comes to residents caring about an issue, it starts with the faith communities. The pastor said at this significant moment in history, the group couldn’t let it pass by without doing something.

“This is a big moment,” he said. “Something is happening, and it could be something good if we stand up and speak up, and it could be something negative if we just sit there and don’t say anything.”

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky, from Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, said the individual congregations have been emphasizing the importance of human rights, but he said it was important to come together as a community.

“This is not something that affects one group, one religion or one part of our society, but it affects everyone — everyone who believes in freedom, who believes in justice and equal rights,” he said.

Elaine Learnard, a Quaker and member of Conscience Bay Friends Meeting, said it was important for her to take part.

“Quakers, since the beginning, have believed in equality of all, and like most of the nation, we haven’t always lived up to our ideals, and it’s important,” she said. “This is a time to me of crisis with potential for great change, and it’s important to be heard and seen in support of the equality of all.”

The majority of the drivers passing by were honking and giving nods of approval.

“I think our signs saying who we are, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, I think that helps people have goodwill and maybe make some of them think a little bit,” Anderson said.

Leonard was not surprised.

“I have always known here in the Three Village there are more compassionate, good people than there are those who are afraid and negative,” he said.

Though Leonard did notice a few negative gestures that didn’t deter his hope in people.

“You know what, it’s the start of a dialogue, talking to each other,” he said. “When we talk to each other, get to know one another then hopefully things like what happened with George Floyd will become less and less. I think there will always be hatred and ignorance in the world. I think that’s just the way it is, but today the Three Village clergy and the other people who have joined us are making a statement that what’s going on is not right. We need to respect each other. We need to get to know one another. We need to build bridges to one another.”

Sidlofsky said the negative is expected as sometimes people misinterpret the message.

“We have to realize that when we stand up for the rights of one group such as the African American community, it doesn’t mean you’re denying the rights of others, it means you’re enhancing human rights,” he said.

Anderson said she has faith in the future.

“I always have faith and trust in the goodness that’s in humanity and I think, I hope, that we perhaps have hit a bottom and the only place to go is up,” she said.

The Rev. Ashley McFaul-Erwin, community outreach pastor for Setauket Presbyterian Church, who grew up in Northern Ireland, is also hopeful.

“I really believe in the inherent goodness in all people,” she said, adding it will take hard work to continue building relationships. “I think at the heart of it, even though we’re very divided right now, there’s a goodness that I hope will come through.”

Leonard said, regarding Floyd’s death, the thing that sticks with him most is how he cried out for his mother who died two years earlier.

“When he called out for his mother, he called out for all mothers black and white, rich and poor,” the pastor said. “That was very meaningful for me and something to think about regarding the tragedy of his death.”

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Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center hosts a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

Numerous acts of anti-Semitism in the past week have left Jewish community leaders concerned for the welfare of its congregates during one of the most joyous celebrations of the Jewish calendar.

Members of the North Shore Jewish Center host a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

On Saturday, a man broke into a rabbi’s home in the town of Monsey in Rockland County where he assaulted the rabbi and those assembled there. Police said the assailant, 37-year-old Grafton Thomas, allegedly stabbed five people gathered in the rabbi’s home, including the religious leader’s son. According to the Washington Post, one of those attacked remains in critical condition. Thomas has plead not guilty.

The North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station gathered together Sunday, Dec. 29 with members of the faith and local officials from the surrounding area to show strength in the face of the violence, lighting candles on a menorah in light of the attacks. Rabbi Aaron Benson, of the Jewish Center, spoke of the need for unity and forward thinking as they looked to “come to grips” with recent anti-Semitic attacks.

The rabbi said such ceremonies are both necessary and helpful for the Jewish community, finding a way to respond to such unnecessary and unprovoked violence. While he said he has seen consistent acts of anti-Semitism over the past several years, seeing several acts of hate over the course of Hanukkah was something new and distressing.

“It was a way to express hope — that we will prevail over violence and hate,” he said. “People of the Jewish faith has faced such attacks and harassment for centuries, but we have always been able to survive, to stay strong.”

Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center hosts a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

Other recent events during the days of Hanukkah have made Jewish leaders concerned. On Dec. 23 a man allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs while assaulting a woman in Manhattan. On Dec. 26, another Brooklyn woman was harassed by a woman shouting other slurs towards her and her son. The next day, a woman slapped three Orthodox Jewish women in the face in Crown Heights, which is known for its Orthodox Jewish population.

Benson said around 75 people came to the ceremony Sunday night, and while many of them were from his congregation, more came from surrounding communities. Fellow clergy from neighboring churches such as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook also came to show support.

Rev. Linda Anderson of the Unitarian fellowship said such shows of support from non-Jews are important so that all know that no one faith is standing alone in the face of violence. Earlier this year, after an attack on mosques in New Zealand, she and other members of the local Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association and Building Bridges in Brookhaven gathered at a mosque in Selden, forming a ring around the building to show support. Anderson is the president of the interfaith group.

“The idea that we have to keep doing this is discouraging,” she said, lamenting about the seemingly constant violent attacks on minority faiths around the world. “But we will keep it up, we will stand for fellow faiths in our community.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) attended the ceremony and called it a “beautiful display of community unity.”

She said that after numerous incidents of anti-Semitism across the country, local centers have looked to review their own policies in protecting their congregation.

In terms of Suffolk County Police, she called them “proactive” in looking to stop such incidents happening locally.

Members of the North Shore Jewish Center host a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

SCPD said in a statement they have stepped up patrols at and around synagogues and Jewish community centers.

Benson said he has found that both the SCPD and sheriff’s departments have been very proactive in their efforts to confront anti-Semitism. He said the local precinct often reaches out to his synagogue and offered added protection for the location after the violent attack Sunday.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) also condemned the attacks.
“Hanukkah 2019 in New York will be remembered for a sick amount of violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around New York City. From colleges to Congress to Hanukkah parties and synagogues, anti-Semitism is on the rise and on full display in many ugly forms,” he said in a statement. “The violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around NYC are being caused by raw hate, feckless leadership, a culture of acceptance, education and promotion of anti-Semitism, and lowering quality of life. All elected and community leaders need to step up to confront and crush this threat.”

North Shore residents of different religions gathered at the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden March 28. Photo by Kate Jones Calone

By Donna Newman

The Village Times Herald and The Times of Middle Country April 4 covers “United we stand,” and the article by Rita J. Egan reporting on the interfaith gathering held March 28 at the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden, were an important community service. The event itself was extraordinary.

Donna Newman. File photo

Members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association presented a panel discussion highlighting the many similarities of the various belief systems it encompasses. Comments from the attendees focused on the necessity of doing more than just coming together in solidarity when terrorists target faith communities around the world. We need to come together often and work together to build bridges between our different faiths and realize that there is more that unites us than divides us.

There was a break in the proceedings on March 28 when the call to prayer was heard. Non-Muslims were invited to observe men and women in prayer. It was an extremely generous gesture to welcome outsiders into a very special and spiritual space.

After the panel discussion and a Q&A, the audience divided into small groups, bringing individuals of different faiths together to talk and get to know each other. My group included Christians, Jews, Unitarian Universalists and a Muslim who happily answered lots of questions — and asked a good number as well.

The evening struck a chord with many who experienced it, and I’m certain that plans began to form to expand the experience so more Long Islanders could benefit.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky and Cantor Marcey Wagner of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook have announced two upcoming events that build on this idea of bringing people together.

The temple will hold its Day of Good Deeds, or Mitzvah Day, Sunday, May 5. Social Action Committee Chair Iris Schiff reached out to other faith groups to invite them to join in various community-minded activities, culminating in an afternoon cleanup of West Meadow Beach.

A breast cancer screening van from Stony Brook Medicine will offer state-of-the-art 3-D digital mammograms from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to females 40 and over who schedule an appointment. For more information, call 631-638-4135.

On Friday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Sidlofsky will replicate an Invite Your Neighbor to Shabbat service that he originated at his previous congregation in Wilmington, North Carolina. Congregants are encouraged to bring non-Jewish neighbors and friends to a service, at which they may experience and learn about Jewish prayer, including a look at an open Torah scroll. The rabbi will be available during the social time after the service to answer questions.

The more we learn about each other’s faiths — their origins, practices and traditions — the more we will understand that we have shared values of peace, love and justice. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect, and we feel others should be as well.

The April 4 article quoted Building Bridges in Brookhaven member and former Ward Melville High School teacher Tom Lyon. As he so eloquently put it: “The most radical thing we can do is to introduce people to each other.”

Donna Newman is a freelance writer and former editor of The Village Times Herald.

On March 28, North Shore residents of various faiths gathered in Selden to show their support for Muslims around the world.

In response to the March 15 terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques, a prayer vigil was held outside the Islamic Association of Long Island where more than 100 people, including members from the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association and Building Bridges in Brookhaven, held hands and formed a ring around the mosque during a moment of silence. The symbol of solidarity took place after a brief prayer led by Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook.

Syed Rahman, current president of the Islamic Association of Long Island, said he was touched by the number of attendees.

“I’m glad so many people made the time to come over with busy workday schedules,” he said. “This is a big turnout. I think this is the biggest turnout since I’ve been president.”

Tom Lyon, a member of Building Bridges in Brookhaven, said more than half a dozen people from the organization attended. One of the group’s founding principles, he said, is based on a motto the members adapted when it was formed — “The most radical thing we can do is to introduce people to each other.”

“Sadly, on Long Island today, developing a diversity of friendships requires far more effort than it should,” Lyon said.

Rev. Steven Kim, pastor of Setauket United Methodist Church, who is also part of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, attended the event.

“It was a night for Three Village residents to stand by the Islamic community regardless of our religions or persuasions in the wake of the tragedy in New Zealand,” he said. “It would be beneficial for us to pursue further opportunities in enhancing the mutual understanding and assuring the same humanity among the different ethnic and religious groups in our community.”

After the prayer vigil, the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association hosted a discussion held inside the mosque titled “Belief and Truth from a Multifaith Perspective: Finding Unity in Diversity.” Professor Chris Sellers of Stony Brook University’s history department and director of the Center for the Study of Inequality and Social Justice moderated the discussion.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, center, with this year's honorees

The 2018 TBR News Media People of the Year in Brookhaven were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 24.

Publisher Leah Dunaief presented the awards to Linda Johnson, Gloria Rocchio, Brian Hoerger, Andrew Harris, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., Heather Lynch, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, Susan Delgado, Angeline Judex, Janet Godfrey, Gina Mingoia, Boy Scout Troop 161 and Boy Scout Troop 204 at the event.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Laffitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.

Members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association lead a prayer vigil at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Photo from Facebook

For approximately two decades, clergy members from a variety of faiths have been working together in the Three Village area to bring residents from different religions together for community discussions. The hope is to achieve a better understanding of the issues that face the world today.

The Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association recently set up a website where members alternate writing blogs. To view the site, visit www.3vclergy.blogspot.com.

The TVICA includes leaders from various religious organizations in the Three Village area including:

Rabbi Aaron Benson, North Shore Jewish Center, Port Jefferson

The Rev. Richard Visconti, Caroline Church and Cemetery, East Setauket

The Rev. Chuck Van Houten, Stony Brook Community Church

The Revs. Margie Allen and Linda Anderson, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

Ismail Zahed, Islamic Association of Long Island, Selden

Father Farrell Graves, All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

The Rev. Kate Huddelson, Stony Brook University Hospital

The Rev. Steven Kim, Setauket Methodist Church

Elaine Learnard, Conscience Bay Quaker Meeting

The Rev. Gregory Leonard, Bethel AME Church, Setauket

Father James Mannion, St. James Roman Catholic Church, Setauket

Sister Edith Menegus, St. Charles Hospital and Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky and Cantor Marcey Wagner, Temple Isaiah Stony Brook

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, Open Door Exchange — Mission of Setauket Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Mary Speers formerly of Setauket Presbyterian Church

Because of this mission, members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association have garnered the honor of being among TBR News Media’s People of the Year 2018.

“The goal of the clergy association, since the beginning, is to promote understanding among the different faith traditions in our community, to learn from one another, and to come together as people of faith interested in connecting with what’s happening in the world and in our community,” said the Rev. Kate Jones Calone, director of Open Door Exchange, a mission of Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Jones Calone said the members organize events where residents can discuss issues such as the 2017 Muslim ban, children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border and gun safety in the country in such a way that helps to build bridges. She said another hope is that the conversations will get residents involved in a positive way that may “allow us to cross the lines that divide us.”

In the past year, events have included the association’s annual Community Thanksgiving Service and prayer vigils for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and those who were separated from their families at the U.S. border. In addition, the group hosted an event titled Interfaith Dialogue on Guns in America and a Good Deeds Day cleanup at West Meadow Beach. The clergy members have also come together to compose letters to the editor, which have been printed in The Village Times Herald.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she first learned about the TVICA several years ago when she was invited to the annual interfaith Thanksgiving program. She said she finds the events warm, inclusive and responsive to the issues existing in the country, including political and religious segregation.

“Since that time, my staff and I have attended their events whenever the schedule permits,” Cartright said. “The TVICA is a vibrant, dynamic community group within Council District 1.”

She said the association’s mission is not only of critical value and importance to the area but also to the world.

“The act of bringing together religious and spiritual ministers and leaders from all backgrounds has created a ripple effect that encourages diversity of thought, compassion for others, and respect for the rich cultural and religious diversity that exists in our area,” Cartright said.

Since the association’s inception, Joan Marino, an elder at Setauket Presbyterian Church, has attended many of the events along with her husband, Frank. She said events such as the prayer vigil for Tree of Life not only recognize the pain of those who are suffering but the pain of the mentally ill.

“Everybody has a different theology of various types, but we all recognize the sanctity of life and loving your neighbor and standing up for those who are oppressed,” she said.

“Everybody has a different theology of various types, but we all recognize the sanctity of life and loving your neighbor and standing up for those who are oppressed.”

— Joan Marino

Marino added one of her favorite events is the Thanksgiving service because she enjoys witnessing residents of all faiths coming together to give thanks. She also appreciates how the events are held in different houses of worship.

“That’s really wonderful because you go to be with the people in their place of faith,” she said.

Jones Calone said the TVICA has held educational programs where community members have been invited to learn about each other’s faith traditions, touching on topics such as end-of-life rituals and understanding other faiths practicing of prayer.

Marino said the events make her feel optimistic.

“From singing together to praying together, to lifting each other up — when there’s a world out there that’s pretty full of hate — and to find a way to bring people together into a more loving community, we have that here in Three Village,” Marino said.

Jones Calone said the Three Village community and surrounding areas are religiously diverse, and the clergy members have seen how meaningful the events have been to residents of different faith traditions.

“People are just hungry for opportunities to support one another — to be in a relationship with one another — and hopefully doing events like this gives people that chance to really know who their neighbors are even if we spend worship hours in different places,” she said.