Sermon by Dr. Catherine Jarvis
Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom
Friday, March 16, 2018
Thank you to Rabbi Grushcow and Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom family for this invitation to share a few words with your congregation tonight. I feel welcome and at home in your synagogue. In fact my history in Montreal is woven/knit in interesting ways to this very synagogue. I hope you we see that as I speak to you tonight.
Chieko Okazaki a past member of the general presidency of the Relief Society (Women’s organization) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke about patterns of interconnectedness. She said, “We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to the great tapestry. We may not understand the pattern that our lives make as they intersect, connect, separate, and intersect again, but God does.”
I feel like this is a good starting place for sharing what I’d like to speak about today–my experiences of interfaith work. Interfaith work creates interesting patterns in my life and knits me to others, as we intersect, connect, separate and intersect again.
I have to confess that I’ve never given a sermon before, or nothing that I would call a sermon – the only people that might say otherwise would be my children. I’m not sure I’m prepared to call this a sermon, but I am grateful for this invitation to share a few of my thoughts with you today.
By way of introduction, I should tell you that I am from Alberta and was raised in a LDS/Mormon home. After graduating from medical school, my husband and I left our community in Alberta and came to McGill to finish our medical residency training. We were practising Mormons so naturally, our first week in Montreal we connected with the local LDS congregation. LDS Church services then were held in what was affectionately called The Synagogue –you may know it as the old Temple Beth Sholom synagogue on Terrebonne Street. The LDS community had purchased that building when the Beth Sholom congregation merged with yours to form Temple Emanu-El Beth Sholom. This was my first thread of connection to your synagogue. I have to admit that many times during our Sabbath services I would allow my mind to wander and be curious about the Temple Beth Sholom congregants whose names were on the back of seat in front of me. I loved the menorahs in the background of the rostrum, and soon I too soon felt connected to “The Synagogue”
As I mentioned, I am a physician by training – and currently work as a family physician with the most vulnerable in our community, including immigrants and refugees. I am the mother of four so naturally I have also received trained in the disciplines of—chauffer, cook, cleaner, teacher, event planner, nurse, and general all purpose fixer of problems. The one area where I have no formal training is as clergy. Thus my discomfort with calling this a sermon. I am however passionate about interfaith work and thus the title of my words today. Interfaith experiences for which I have been grateful. I’d like to share four such experiences with you tonight.
In one of the Mormon scriptures the D and C 58: 27-28
27 Verily I say, men should be aanxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them…
In 2007, I was asked (or what Mormons refer to as “called”) to be responsible for public affairs, or outreach for the LDS community in Montreal. To understand this, you should know that we have no paid clergy in our local congregations. That means volunteers including for example our Bishops (which would be the equivalent of a priest), fill all positions in our congregations. Members of the congregation are “called” to fill certain position for a period of time. In my position, with responsibility for outreach, I soon realized that we needed to build bridges with other faith communities. Thus began what became a 2-year search for an interfaith group that would be open to LDS participation. To say this was a frustrating and slow process would be correct. There was a lot mistrust/misunderstanding from faith communities about our motives, and I will admit that we may have unintentionally created some of these barriers. LDS members spend/volunteer a lot of time helping within their congregations, but we haven’t been great at reaching out to others, so this was new territory for us. Outreach efforts over 2 years finally led to an introduction to Rabbi Leigh Lerner (Emeritus Rabbi here, who at the time was the president of the Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal). He and the other members of the group welcomed me. Working and participating in the Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal has been life changing for me. That is perhaps a talk for another day.
I’m grateful for the experience of struggling to connect with the interfaith community in Montreal, because it taught me several things including patience and that interfaith work is just that –work. We need patience as we reach out to each other and we need to be persistent in our efforts to build relationships and friendships with others. It takes TIME
- The Christian Commemoration of the Shoah
1 Chronicles 12:17 “And David went out to meet them, and answered and said unto them, If ye be come peaceably unto me to help me, mine heart shall be knit unto you..”
The Christian Commemoration of the Shoah is an annual event sponsored by the CJDM
This tradition brings together Jews and Christians on Holocaust Remembrance Day/Yom Hashoah to commemorate the approximately six million Jews and five million others who died in the Holocaust during World War II. For those who are interested in participating, this year’s event will be held on April 15th at 11 am St Monica’s parish in NDG.
In 2013, The LDS community had the chance to host the Christian commemoration of the Shoah. This was a first for our community. As part of the organizing committee, I learned much working alongside of the Jewish community about creating an event that would draw on the best from both communities’ traditions. Rabbi Lisa Grushcow and Cantor Rachelle Schubert of Temple Emanu-El Beth Sholom were invited and accepted to participate at that event along with Helene Kravitz, a hidden child. I appreciated the words Rabbi Grushcow spoke at that meeting when she invited us “to come together in understanding and acceptance of one another’s differences”. Over 240 people came to the event, many from the LDS community because they wanted to learn and understand more about their Jewish Neighbours.
I was grateful for this experience as it taught me openness and courage. The Jewish Community showed great courage in sharing such a tender moment with our community, with whom they had previously felt some unease. This openness to try and build a bridge of understanding with the LDS community was appreciated. I was touched, as it says in Chronicles, that the Jewish community gave our community “a chance to come together peaceably” in remembrance. Experiences like this have shown me the importance of courage and understanding in building bridges.
- “Je suis Quebecois”
In the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 18:21 “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, … having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another. “
In 2013, when there was much controversy in Quebec about the proposed charter of values (Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality), I had another interesting interfaith experience. I had the opportunity to work on a social media campaign with Rabbi Grushcow, Reverend Diane Rollert, and others. The CJDM spearheaded this project to create a video for sharing on social media that would address faith communities concerns about the proposed charter. Naturally our working group led to a lot of jokes that began something like, What do you get when a Rabbi, a priest and a Mormon… Ultimately we were able to create and launch 3 videos affirming that there is room in Quebec society for religious diversity and that we want to create a Quebec that is open and welcoming. The videos spoke to the idea that we can live together in harmony and that we can equally celebrate our diversity.
While filming these videos, I had the opportunity to work with a doctor, professor, entrepreneur, artist, student and housewife with faiths ranging from Muslim and Buddhist to Jewish, Baptist, agnostic and atheist. I felt grateful to listen to this diverse group of individuals share their belief that Quebec has a rich history, and we are all part of it – Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheist, secularists, and yes even Mormons. I feel particularly grateful for something Victor Goldbloom taught me during this project about Belonging, and what it really means to be a member of the community. His message was so powerful, that it eventually became it’s own video. His answer in the video question – Être québécois, qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? was simple—Quoting Rene Levesque he said, “Est Québécois qui veut l’être”. Whoever wants to be a Quebecer is one.
As a Mormon Anglophone woman from Alberta, it was the first time in my life that I realized that I was a Quebecer. I was because I wanted to participate in community life and be a part of the fabric that makes up our wonderful city and province. I was grateful in this experience for not only what I learned about listening and hearing others, but also what I learned about what it means to belong to the larger fabric of our community.
- Interfaith EcoAction day.
King David in Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
Interfaith EcoAction Events have been organized within local Montreal neighbourhoods annually for the past seven years as a practical expression of faith in action. As a member of the organizing committee and annual participant at these events, I love that people of various faiths come together to make a difference in the community and to express the common belief that we are all entrusted with the care of the Earth. These events show the power of faith in our community to make a positive difference. Volunteers who work together come to know that although faith traditions may vary, we have much in common including the desire to live in healthy and safe communities. I believe that there is no better way to knit a thread of connection with someone than to work with them. Working to improve our community space reminds us in a very concrete way that we can work together—we can solve and deal with problems that affect us all.
Last year’s event saw us not only work together to improve the community, but also our first efforts to break down religious stereotypes.
We invited a Rabbi, Imam, Priest and a Mormon (this sounds like the start of a bad joke again) to “bust a myth” about their religious traditions. I appreciated this opportunity to look at religious stereotypes and reflect on what stereotypes I might be carrying that perhaps were getting in the way of truly knowing others. I particularly appreciated the words of Rabbi Grushcow at that event when she busted the myth that there is only one way of being Jewish. She said, “As in all religious traditions, so too in Judaism, there are Jews of all different religious orientations, sexual orientations, colour, socio-economic status and national origin. [We need to] recognize that there is just such tremendous diversity. There is room enough for all of us.”
I am grateful for opportunities to work collaboratively with other faith communities to deal with issues that affect all of us. I am grateful for experiences that remind me we have much in common and that there is room enough for all of us.
Having shared with you 4 interfaith experiences for which I am grateful, I invite you to think about what interfaith experiences you have had
or how you might get involved in interfaith work. There is no one right way to do this, but I can guarantee that reaching out to people who are different than you culturally, linguistically or religiously, will be life changing and might even lead you to create a list of Interfaith Experiences for which you have been grateful. For those of you who need a push, I’d invite you to check out the CJDM next event the Building Bridges Contest that was launched today. The Building Bridges Youth Contest encourages Montreal area youth to showcase their artistic and writing talents to share their thoughts/experiences on how our community looks when we are working and living in harmony. Presented by The Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal, in collaboration with CIJA Quebec and The City of Montreal, this competition invites youth to submit creative writing or artwork exploring aspects of building bridges across language, cultural or religious divides. The contest is in memory of the late Dr. Victor Goldbloom, one of Montreal’s finest statesmen, a great leader in intercultural and interfaith dialogue who was passionate about building bridges and was a member of this congregation.
I love the way these connecting threads, these interfaith experiences have woven themselves into the tapestry of my life. It has created a beautiful pattern for which I feel richly blessed and grateful.
You might ask yourself what do these reflections have to do with today’s liturgy from the first 5 chapters of Leviticus. I’d like to suggest that in fact the themes in these chapters of Leviticus–Sacrifice – Peace Offerings – Forgiveness – and Restitution are foundational to interfaith work. I’d submi
t that the sacrifices required of us today are sacrifices of our time to get to know others, our resources towards building up our communities. Sacrifices of identifying and addressing our own prejudices, misconceptions, intolerance, and indifference towards others. Our peace offerings are the effort and work it takes to know and understand others. Our peace offerings are the courage to reach out, kindness, willingness to listen understand with our hearts. I would submit that these are the modern kinds of sacrifices and offerings we can bring.
Finish with words of Cheiko Okazaki again. “We cannot afford to be cruel, unkind, indifferent, ungenerous–because we are all connected, even if it is in a pattern that we cannot see. A pattern that only God sees.” I am grateful for the many interfaith experiences and connections that have helped me to understand this truth.