Washington, DC-area church hosts multifaith vigil for peace and humanity

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jun 3, 2024

Members from Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Jain and Christian faith traditions together light a candle during the “Multifaith Vigil for Peace and Humanity” June 2 at St. John’s Episcopal Church Norwood, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photo: YouTube screenshot

[Episcopal News Service] St. John’s Episcopal Church Norwood, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, hosted representatives of faith communities for a “Multifaith Vigil for Peace and Humanity” on June 2.

The Rev. Anne Derse, deacon and minister for community engagement at the church, welcomed about 75 people attending in person and others watching the event’s livestream. She told those gathered that the vigil specifically was designed not to be political but instead was intended as a time of solace, calm and spiritual renewal.

“There won’t be any sermons or homilies or statements or reflections,” she said. “We are going to offer you prayers for peace from our diverse faith traditions, some beautiful music and the opportunity to light candles in private prayer.”

The event was organized by the parish’s Holy Land Committee, which works to build knowledge of the Holy Land and engagement with its issues and people.

Derse said this service was needed now because people of faith need to hold up a vision “of peace, hope, dignity, respect and justice for all of our siblings … especially when we’re witnessing the tragic and violent circumstances prevailing in the Holy Land and sadly in so many other parts of the world today.”

Because striving for peace is hard work, she said the vigil was a time when people could come together “to rest just for a moment, to heal and nurture our spirits and renew our vision together.”

Members representing Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Jain and Christian faith traditions then used individual small candles to light together a large candle sitting on an altar in the church’s nave. Their smaller candles then were placed in a bowl of sand.

Prayers and hymns for peace then were offered by the faith leaders, and Derse invited those in the pews to come forward to light their own small candles and place them in the sand.

Among the prayers were ones written by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, both read by members of St. John’s, and a prayer attributed to St. Francis that begins “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Instrumental and vocal music was interspersed throughout the vigil. At the end, Derse led a litany for peace.

Those attending also were invited to contribute to the Holy Land Committee’s work, which includes financial support for three organizations working in Gaza and Israel – Doctors Without Borders, World Central Kitchen and the Binational School for Psychotherapy.

The Holy Land Committee is just one of St. John’s outreach ministries that serve people in the area and beyond.

—Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.