Woodstock summit brings religious groups together
On Sept. 13, Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock held its first-ever Interfaith Peace Summit in honor of the Unity World Day of Prayer.
Around 75 people attended the event, which featured speakers from Islamic, Buddhist and Jewish temples throughout McHenry County.
The summit was organized by USCW church member Debbi Evans-Rosales and the USCW spirituality group Sisters in Spirit.
Evans-Rosales said she derived the idea for the gathering from a peace summit world leaders and Pope Paul VI started 26 years ago.
“I thought, why can’t we start one?” she said.
She stated the belief system of USCW – that all paths lead to God – shows a commonality and love of God that exposes people to all religions.
Evans-Rosales and the Sisters in Spirit nominated 20 area religious groups as possible guests. After the group voted, a handful were chosen as the final speakers of the evening.
“We stepped out in faith – and the fact that we were allowed to create this vision is a blessing.”
Key speakers included Bhante Sujatha, Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple; Rabbi Maralee Gordon, McHenry County Jewish Congregation; Sheikh Arafat, an Islamic speaker; and Rev. Tom Wendt, Unity Spiritual Center.
Prior to the event, Gordon discussed her feelings about the evening ahead.
“I think all religions in the world have more in common than differences,” she said.
“We all need reminders about what we should be striving for. [It will be great to] hear others explain these teachings out loud and focus on the values in our own life.”
Each speaker delivered a short message about how to retain peace in today’s world as well as advice for gaining understanding and love toward religions that may be different from one’s own.
Sujatha talked about finding peace with oneself first and then spreading this peace to others; Gordon shared Jewish daily prayers for peace in Hebrew; Sheikh Arafat attempted to shine light on the true meaning behind Islam and condemned Muslim-extremist acts worldwide as being anti-Islamic in nature; and Wendt emphasized the idea that people should seek peace, understanding and love when it comes to other religions.
“We are all people, regardless of which part of the line we insist upon,” he said.
“The path to peace is for us to get to know [one another] despite these belief systems.
“We will enjoy a peaceful world when the world is populated by peaceful people … We all have a part to play in world peace.”
As each presenter went up to the podium, a candle was lit in a display that represented the joining of all religions together.
The Sisters in Spirit closed the summit with a choir performance, “We Are All Angels.”
Wendt and Evans-Rosales said they hope to do another peace summit next year.
“We all have a part to play in peace,” said Wendt.
“This is a moving experience, a cultural thing. People get to open their eyes and make a change,” said Evans-Rosales.
She said she hopes more religious groups will attend next year. She added, this year’s key speakers have agreed to return for 2013.
For information, visit www.unitywoodstock.org.