The U.N. Interfaith Harmony Week in New York City: Unification, at last…

February 27, 2023

Contributed by Qalvy Grainzvolt, the Shinnyo-en USA New York Temple

On February 5th, 2023, I represented Shinnyo-en USA Buddhist Order once again at the U.N. Interfaith Harmony week. This time it was for the 19th Annual Interreligious Prayer Service for Peace and Justice held at a venue that has been a long awaited host site in New York City: Unification Theological Seminary.

This service had been held numerous times in Westchester County, NY but finally found its way to within a mile of the United Nations this past February. By now, many of the attendees have become familiar faces and friends to one another; regularly growing our heartfelt connections whilst the idea of interfaith harmony and interreligious engagement continues to take root and find deeper meaning with each gathering. While finding a state of unification in a theological sense is not necessarily the purpose of this annual service, there was something meaningful, I thought, in seeing this interreligious gathering take place in an active seminary. There is often a great disparity around access to seminaries with theological education that is not Abrahamic in nature. For me, this phenomenon presents something of an academy-wide food desert where the access to theological “food for thought” in such interreligious and non-Abrahamic contexts are few and far in between. This is not to say that great strides have not been made in such access, including in New York. However, the ethos of interfaith harmony week, I believe, is one of collaboration and holding space for deep understanding and imagination to take root. Almost, like a seminary setting where there is ample time (in our case, about 3 hours for this year’s service), there needs to be real space for dialogue. For this very reason, when I say “unification, at last”- it is not to suggest that unification is the goal. Rather, there is meaning behind a theological/seminary institution such as Unification Theological seminary opening its doors and hosting such space for more deep immersion into the plurality that marks not only this observance but the nature of the world and its religious landscape that we are all growing into, daily. I hope that this annual observance will continue to be held in such academic spaces of higher theological and religious learning so that even if credit is not received for such gatherings and exchanges like the U.N. Interfaith Harmony Week, we will all continue to excel and grow in our interreligious engagements in the school of life- which is never not in session.

Below is the flow of the service this year at Unification Theological Seminary:

19th Annual Interreligious Prayer Service for Peace and Justice

Celebrating the World Interfaith Harmony Week

Order of Service

2/5/23 PM

Unification Theological Seminary

Unification Theological Seminary

4 W. 43rd St.
New York, New York

Welcome and Introduction of Representatives of World Religions: Dr. Charles S. Chesnavage, Service Planner

Recognition of Guests and Public Officials

Welcome President Thomas Walsh, President of Unification Theological Seminary and Universal Peace Federation

Opening Prayer

Unitarian Universalist Prayer: Rev. Meredith Garmon, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of White Plains, NY

Moment of Silence

Society of Friends/Quaker Tradition of Silence

Jewish Prayer: Priestly Blessing Prayer: Adrian Strizhak,

Christian Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer/Our Father in Aramaic and English: Rev. Dr. John Krysko, D. Min. and Laura Derr

Muslim Prayer: Imam Abdul Azeez, Imam of Al-Masjidu Adam Community Life Center for Human Excellence, Bronx, NY

Sikh Prayer/Kirtan: Jatinder Singh and Family, National Humanitarian Aid Director, United

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints/Mormon: Ryan Gardner, Professor of Religious Education, Brigham Young University, Idaho.

Baha’i Prayer: Vivian Bergenthal, Baha’i Faith Community of Westchester, Connecticut, and New York City

Hindu Prayer: Swati Garg, Hindus for Human Rights

Jain Prayer: Ila Vora, Director of Publications, Media, and Public Relations at North East Region of USA for Shrimad Rajchandra Mission (SRM)

Buddhist Prayer: Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt of the Shinnyo-en USA New York Buddhist Temple in White Plains, NY

Unification Church: Dr. Remi Alapo, Director of the Institute for Peace and Leadership, Inc.

Humanist Statement/Ethical Culture: Geoffrey D. Smith, Westchester Community for Ethical Culture

Prayer for Imbolc Celtic Calendar: Rev. Deborah Steen Ross

Native American Honoring Song: George Stonefish

Closing Statement and Thank-you to All Guests and Participants by Dr. Chesnavage and President Thomas Walsh of Unification Theological Seminary regarding hosting of the 19th Annual Interreligious Prayer Service for Peace and Justice