It started out simply enough. The church needed another place to meet September 24 because the congregation with which it shares a building, Congregation Sof Ma’arav, was using that space to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days.
First Unitarian found that the courtyard at the state capitol building was available on a first-come first-serve basis. Fine. That venue would fit perfectly with Sunday’s sermon topic of “Social Justice Work as a Spiritual Discipline.” The courtyard was reserved.
Then First Unitarian’s the Rev. Michael Young learned at a meeting of the All Believers Network, a local interfaith group, that not only would Rosh Hashanah start on that weekend, but it would also be the beginning of the Islamic month-long celebration of Ramadan and the beginning of the Hindu nine nights celebration called Durga Puja.
Someone at the meeting suggested it would be nice to acknowledge this unusual convergence of significant religious holidays in an interfaith service.
Young volunteered to turn the courtyard service into an interfaith one. As Mary Adamski, religion writer for the Honolulu Star Bulletin observed in the paper a few days before the service, “In one of those only-in-Hawaii moments, a church service planned for tomorrow will observe all three holidays by bringing a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew to pray together in a congregation that includes some Christians. . . In many places, not like Hawaii, any combination of those faiths can be grounds for unholy madness and mayhem.”
Young told Adamski, “There’s a wonderful conjunction here, not just the calendric fascinations—all three holidays begin within hours of each other. There is meaning that overlaps the three celebrations. Essentially they are all reflecting on, ‘Is the person I’ve been this year the kind of person I want to be?’”
At the Sunday service Roger Epstein of the All Believers Network read a Rosh Hashanah prayer. Dharm P.S. Bhawuk recited a Hindu prayer. Hakim Ouansafi of the Muslim Association of Hawaii read a passage from the Qur’an and quotations from the Prophet Muhammad. Young played his ukulele and presented the sermon.
About 60 people attended the service, 40 Unitarian Universalists, 10 from other faith traditions, and the rest were people who had read the newspaper article and decided to come. Young said, “The service gave us an opportunity to cast the whole idea of social action as a spiritual discipline in a larger than Unitarian Universalist context. A willingness to be involved in the larger community in justice work cuts across all of our religious traditions.”
He said Hawaii’s diversity made the service easier. “Nowhere else in the country are there so many religious traditions where none is the major tradition.” He estimated Christians comprise about a fourth of Hawaiians, compared to 75 to 80 percent in the rest of the country.
Sunday’s service was outdoors, but under cover. Participants brought lawn chairs. Young believes it might have been the first worship service in that space although various groups have done prayer vigils there as part of campaigns about political issues. The service wasn’t quite perfect, he noted. “No one told us the bathrooms in this public space would be locked on a Sunday.”