Each year at this time, the eighth grade confirmation students of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and Wilton Presbyterian Church visit two other Wilton faith institutions to attend services there and speak with their clergy leaders. The confirmands find these visits to be high points in their churches’ year-long confirmation programs. It’s not surprising that they find them so since they receive during these visits very special insights into the differences, for sure, but also the many similarities among the various faith traditions especially in the view of their role for the good both in this community and in the larger world.
The visits are to Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church and to Reform Jewish Temple B’nai Chaim. On each visit, the confirmands get a very warm welcome, the opportunity to participate in a worship experience there, and a lot of information and insights from the parish’s and temple’s clergy leaders as they ask their questions and participate in discussions with them.
Our Lady’s pastor, Father Reggie Norman, celebrated the Mass the confirmands attended and then spoke with them afterwards in a lively presentation followed by a far-ranging discussion. He underscored how much our various faith traditions have in common and, with great wit, warmth and insight, answered specific questions.
Then, at Temple B’nai Chaim, Rabbi Rachel Bearman gave the confirmands a tour of the temple facilities encompassing both its former sanctuary (that is still in use as a large meeting space) and its new sanctuary with beautiful glass walls that look out on a garden and forested area. With wit, warmth and insight very similar to Father Norman’s, she answered a wide range of questions and also opened the Ark and showed the confirmands the three Scrolls of Scripture contained within it. She even unrolled one of the scrolls to show the confirmands how it had been pieced together from large individual sheets of vellum, and how each sheet was beautifully and painstakingly inscribed by a scribe for whom a single mistake meant starting the whole sheet over again.
She pointed also to the almost two-centuries-old scroll that is now too fragile to unroll and which came to the temple after its restoration in London at the end of World War II. This magnificent scroll had belonged to a synagogue in Czechoslovakia that was burnt to the ground and whose congregants were killed by the Nazis. The scroll was among the treasures the Nazis had stolen and warehoused in caves and other hiding places, only to be unearthed by Allied forces at war’s end.
After a pizza supper shared with the temple’s confirmation students, the St. Matthew’s and Wilton Presbyterian confirmands joined in the temple’s regular Friday evening service, made especially accessible to the confirmands by Rabbi Bearman. Among the beautiful liturgy for this service was a passage read by one of the temple’s students that was composed by Rabbi Bearman and appears in a new prayer book, Mishkan HaNefesh for Youth, for which she served on the editorial committee. The passage reads in part: “God is the hug that puts us back together when we fall apart. God is the feeling in our hearts that makes us stand up for what is right. God is the mirror that shows us how our actions impact others. God is the love that helps us stand tall, confident in ourselves. God is far away and closer than we could ever imagine. God is mine, and I am God’s.”
These kinds of interfaith experiences, repeated each year for a quarter-century and more now, are part of the fabric of our town. It’s no wonder that the ties that bind our town’s faith communities are so strong and that when interfaith action is called for, it is swift and powerful to support, sustain and uphold what is right and to undertake what should be done. That action includes, on the purely positive side, everything from meal-packaging to refugee resettlement while in addressing the negative side, it encompasses firm and unequivocal responses to — as we all know sadly too well — Nazi swastikas, hateful notes, and rocks through windows.
As stated in the prayer book Mishkan T’fillah, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, “The winding way to the promised land passes through the wilderness. There is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.” We in Wilton can be very grateful for the interfaith fabric that so firmly unites us in that march.