It was a rare privilege hundreds of Walla Wallans shared on a recent Sunday. The occasion was the participation by Jewish Rabbi Stan Yedwab from Redmond in a Sunday Mass service led by the Rev. Tim Hays at Assumption Catholic Parish Church.
The church was overflowing with regular Assumption parishioners, together with members of Walla Walla's Congregation Beth Israel and others from several area Christian churches.
Interfaith programs and interfaith religious services in the Northwest are becoming more common to increase understanding and establish a deeper sense of community among people of different faiths.
Pat Henry, a retired French professor at Whitman College, in 2009 helped to initiate a new Interfaith Peace Project here in Walla Walla. In September, he and Richard Middleton-Kaplan were influential in putting together a Yom Kippur Interfaith Forgiveness Panel, made up of eight representatives from various and diverse Walla Walla and Tri-Cities places of worship.
For the first reading from Scripture on Feb. 28, Rabbi Stan read an excerpt from the Book of Genesis. He then gave a short talk on brotherhood, noting that Jews, Christians and Muslims are all descendants of Abraham, and that all three faiths teach that God loves all groups equally.
Rabbi Yedwab stated the most radical words in the Bible are: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." He emphasized today all believers are called on to say: "I can believe in my faith with all my heart, and still respect you and your faith with all my heart."
At the conclusion of his reflections, the entire congregation joined in lengthy applause and appreciation. It had been an exceptional moment in the religious history of Walla Walla, as two different faiths came together under one roof and under one God.
Many congregants filed past the priest and the rabbi to offer their thanks and gratitude for the groundbreaking service they had just been a part of.
We here in Walla Walla look forward to more such interfaith services and events in the future.