January 10, 2007; St. Gregory's Episcopal Church; Children of Abraham, the Search for Common Ground; By Steve Vinik.
On the evening of January 10, as part of the St. Gregory's lecture series, a Rabbi, a Priest and an Imam explored their common ancestry through the family of Abraham. Additional chairs had to be set up in Harris Hall as more and more people of different ages, faiths and backgrounds filled the room. Fr. Andrew Sherman, rector of St. Gregory's, set the tone for the lectures by sharing his memories of meeting with people of Jewish and Muslim faiths as a child. He said his life was touched by their piety and their friendship. He then presented a short account of how the Episcopal Church focuses on the Biblical figure of Abraham as the father of many, whose family eventually included Jesus.
Imam Radwan Kouatli of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton wore a great smile, and used many gestures as he spoke. He peppered his presentation with cultural references and puns. He spoke of a jealous but loving Allah, a father figure so much like our own picture of a loving God. He used his extensive knowledge of the Koran, the Torah and Christian Scriptures to draw parallels between the religions.
Rabbi David Steinhardt of the B'nai Torah Congregation is a close friend of Fr. Sherman, whose friendship came about when St. Gregory's office ran short of copier supplies and was told by their vendor of a neighboring synagogue that used the same equipment. A friendship between the leaders of the two churches ensued. (The rabbi even joined the Christmas midnight mass at St. Gregory's and read the Old Testament lesson.) Rabbi Steinhardt told three stories of Abraham that gave a particularly Jewish perspective. He spoke of an Abraham who was ordered to sacrifice his son, not so that God could test his loyalty but so that Abraham could understand the depth of his love for God.
After the three vigorous and youthful ministers gave their presentations, the floor was open to the audience for questions. One of the hands raised belonged to a member of the Bahai faith, Iris Tarafdar. She said her faith was also grounded in Abraham. So, Fr. Sherman asked her to join the panel and answer questions from her perspective. One of the toughest questions for all of them was about salvation, and all four members did their best to give a quick response to that complex puzzle.
Throughout the evening, a deep current of mutual respect and friendship filled the room, and at the end of the program, Rabbi Steinhardt suggested that everyone meet again in the near future and continue to explore the different faiths and find more common ground and understanding. The crowd clapped their hands in agreement.
Photo caption: L-R: Fr. Andrew Sherman of St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, Imam Radwan Kouatli of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, and Rabbi David Steinhardt of the B'nai Torah Congregation.