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Interfaith Unity Service brings community together

Faith leaders from Coral Springs, Parkland gather with 600 people from various denominations

Leaders of all the faith communities represented at the annual Unity Service conclude the evening by singing God Bless America.

Photographer: ASHLEY WITHEROW | FC

Leaders of all the faith communities represented at the annual Unity Service conclude the evening by singing God Bless America.

CORAL SPRINGS | Interfaith clergy, along with nearly 600 people from the Parkland-Coral Springs area, came together Nov. 20 for a beautiful night of prayer and song: the annual pre-Thanksgiving Interfaith Unity Service.

“These interfaith events are important because they demonstrate how people of different faiths, especially their leaders, can work together for the common good and to promote common values of justice, peace, and hope,” said Msgr. Michael Souckar, pastor of St. Andrew Church in Coral Springs, who gave the reflection for the evening. “The parishioners at St. Andrew have told me that they very much enjoy participating in these interfaith events and they encourage me to continue.”

Msgr. Souckar is a member of the Clergy Coalition of Coral Springs and Parkland, which organizes the event each year along with the Coral Springs Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee. The gathering is held at one of four different places of worship that is large enough to accommodate everyone. This year it was held at Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs.

“I very much enjoy being part of the Clergy Coalition,” Msgr. Souckar said. “Our monthly gatherings are an opportunity to get to know one another well and to foster mutual understanding and collaboration.

The children's choir from St. Andrew Catholic Church, directed by Mary Lou Taff, perform

Photographer: ASHLEY WITHEROW | FC

The children's choir from St. Andrew Catholic Church, directed by Mary Lou Taff, perform "Para Amar Como Tu" (To Love Like You), at the 2018 Interfaith Unity Service which took place a couple of days before Thanksgiving in Coral Springs.

“The Clergy Coalition meet and share ideas that can benefit our communities,” said Fazal M. Deen of Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen, who has been a part of the Coalition for 10 years. “It gives us a better perspective of each other’s faith. We have developed such love and respect for each other, and when our communities are in need, it just takes one email, and we do what it takes, to be a source of benefit and healing.”

Lisa Shelly, a member of St. Andrew’s choir, said she looks forward every year to singing in the combined choir. “We meet up with friends from Beth Orr, Kol Tikvah, and First Church,” she said, noting “our faith family truly extends past St. Andrew. Coral Springs has been doing this for literally decades now, and we are all the better for it.”

“It is the perfect time of the year to come together as one people, every color, creed, race and religion … to give thanks, prayers and socialize under one roof,” said Sandra Dawson, also a St. Andrew parishioner. “What an awesome feeling.”

The reflection this year by Msgr. Souckar touched on the tragic events at Parkland this past February, the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue and the California fires.

“He reflected on Bible verses from John and Exodus so that we could better understand why and how things may happen and (that) God is listening to us,” Dawson recalled. “He concluded (that) we must continue to have faith and also to continue to pray for an increase of faith and hope.”  

The evening featured the combined choir, a children’s choir and a presentation by Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky and Coral Springs Mayor Pro Tempore Lou Cimaglia. The night ended with everyone singing Let There Be Peace on Earth, God Bless America, and America the Beautiful.

Other places of worship that took part in the evening included: Baha’i Assembly of Coral Springs, New Dawn Community Church, First Church Coral Springs, Christ Church-A Lutheran Ministry, Royal Palm Christian Church, and St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church.

Participants also were invited to donate to the poor and provide canned goods for food pantries in the community.

“As a Christian theologian, I recognize the blessing that is released in a community when it recognizes God by thanking him. It is an act of humility that releases grace,” said Rev. Randall Cutter, pastor of New Dawn Community Church, who co-chairs the Clergy Coalition.

“After this year’s event, I was speaking with someone during the fellowship time after the service, and I asked if that person could hear the sound. It was the loud sound of many voices sharing greetings and discussions as they enjoyed refreshments together,” Rev. Cutter continued. “I looked at the person and told them that the sound we were hearing was the sound of life being released in our community; people of different faiths, cultures and backgrounds had shared a common event, and now they were enjoying each other. That does not happen everywhere, and I am so glad it happens here.”

Reporter Gigi Fontanilla and photographer Ashley Witherow are members of St. Andrew Parish, Coral Springs.

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