In a time of crisis after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018, a mix of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist leaders came together in a vigil in St. Louis Park. Amid the turbulence of this year’s election season, many of those leaders will mark a vigil again.
Tania Haber, senior pastor at Westwood Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park, said faith leaders considered another interfaith gathering based on the positive response of the previous event. More than 500 people attended the event, which included prayer, songs, readings and the lighting of candles.
Following the impact of the pandemic and debates over equality and law enforcement this year, Haber said, “This is an important moment for us to come together and pray for our country, our community.”
Due to the pandemic, the planned event will be online instead of in person. Participating houses of worship will record candle lightings in each of their sanctuaries and will provide words of welcome to be followed by readings and music. The video will premiere 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, on Facebook and YouTube with the ability for viewers to chat with each other. Links will be posted at www.westwood.church the week of the event and at facebook.com/WestwoodLutheranChurch.
St. Louis Park’s cable television service, ParkTV, will begin showing the video beginning 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, on its channel 15. The video will air at 10 a.m., 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. each day for the next week.
Participating congregations include Beth El Synagogue, Union Congregational United Church of Christ, Vista Lutheran Church, Aldersgate Methodist Church in St. Louis Park and Adath Jeshurun Congregation, a Minnetonka synagogue. Haber said she has reached out to Muslim and Buddhist leaders along with all the houses of worship in St. Louis Park.
“We didn’t get everybody to jump in, but we wanted to at least get the word out that anybody in the community can still be a part of it by listening,” Haber said.
Noting the involvement of some of the people who spontaneously organized the 2018 vigil, Haber said, “I think these relationships are hard to maintain when we’re all so busy, but there are these times when we realize we lean on each other and depend on each other to be a safe and stable community for all of us.”
Ken Sysko, community outreach officer for the St. Louis Park Police Department, has supported the effort.
Of his involvement and issues relating to race and law enforcement, Haber said, “We are naming the realities, but we are not getting into any political stuff. He was very personally supportive in saying this is exactly what our community needs to be doing.”
Haber acknowledged the death of St. Louis Park resident George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody.
“With him being a neighbor, down the block here from me, I just think there’s a lot of emotion and desire for people to be together, however that looks like in your own walk of faith or spirituality.”
She noted that Westwood Lutheran Church Cantor for Music, Worship, and the Arts G. Phillip Shoultz, who is African American, has taken the lead on music for the event – including arranging to mix singing by individuals from home into a combined choral work.
Westwood Lutheran Church has hosted an event timed near a presidential election in the past, after the 2016 vote. Following a question from a teenage attendee who asked if the church would have conducted the service if that year’s election results had been different, Haber said she thought, “After each election, as a community of faith we should be praying for our leaders. Our commitment was to do something either before or after the election.”
With this year’s vigil timed before the election, Haber said, “Then it’s not so much a prayer for a person or a party as a prayer for peace in our land.”
Follow the Sun Sailor on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunsailor.