Article Last Updated:
Monday, September 16, 2002 - 2:57:50 AM MST
Six different religions share pulpit with church sermon
By Julissa McKinnon
His orange robe wrapped neatly around his lean frame, Swami Vedananda began the Sunday sermon at Eden United Church of Christ in Hayward with a chant from the Vedas -- a sacred Hindu text.
"Om shanti, shanti, shanti," he sang from the pulpit, Sanskrit for "peace, peace, peace."
It was anything but a typical Sunday service for the white-steepled church on Birch Street. Prayers and songs from six religions -- Bahai, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Sikh -- echoed off the wooden pews and stained-glass windows. For Eden Pastor Don Gall, who retires at the end of September, the service meant the culmination of 10 months of interfaith gatherings, not to mention a dream come true.
"I think the service expressed the kind of unity we as people need to pursue to a greater extent," Gall said. "I don't think there's one word that was said or phrase that was uttered that not all of us could embrace together."
Spawned by the climate of activism that trailed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the interfaith group has since joined the United Religions Initiative of San Francisco.
Gall said the reason for the interfaith project can be summed up by Hans Kung, a Catholic theologian who wrote: "There will be no peace among nations until there is peace among the religions."
In fact, peace was the recurring refrain in the music and words of the service, which began with an Islamic call to prayer and ended with a 30-person drum circle.
During the middle of the service associate minister Lydia Ferrante-Roseberry called children to the front to sit in a circle before offering them an explanation for the break from Sunday routine.
"We're showing all the different ways people come together to pray and if you pay attention to what is happening in all the traditions, what people are looking for, if you listen, is peace," she said to the circle of toddlers and teens.
But later Swami Vedananda cautioned his listeners against dabbling in many religions, only to neglect one's own faith.
"Interfaith meetings do not mean accept everything, go everywhere, and spread yourselves thin over a broad spectrum," he said. "The goal is to be inspired by others to look deeper into your own religion. Your own faith is the easiest, most direct way to knowing God."
But there are always exceptions. Vedananda himself was raised Jewish and later became a Hindu monk at age 25 after hearing a swami speak in San Francisco many years ago.
"He was speaking the language I needed to hear. Each religion responds to the needs of a particular type of people," Vedananda said. "There should be more religions, because there are so many different people in the world."
He likened God to a mother who understands and responds to her children's changing needs.
"She knows that one child has a strong stomach and the other doesn't, and what's good for one may not be as good for the other. But she nourishes all her children," he told the congregation.
©Copyright 2002, Tri-Valley Herald (Oakland, CA)