In a scene set like the Last Supper, local clergy gathered at a long table filled with foods and items of both seasonal and religious significance.
Among those at the head table at Newtown United Methodist Church on Sunday, April 6, which was set for a Passover Seder feast and interfaith celebration, NUMC Reverend Mel Kawakami greeted members of the public filling the room. The religious leaders and guests came together for the interfaith supper and traditional Jewish ritual feast marking the beginning of Passover, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
Reverend Kawakami soon introduced Congregation Adath Isreal’s Rabbi Shaul Praver, who also noted the feast’s Christian aspects, recalling that the Last Supper was a Seder. In an earlier interview, Rev Kawakami had said, “That’s where our Christian and Jewish roots share a focal point, and that’s the Last Supper Passover celebration. Sometimes we need to remember that Jesus was a Jew.”
Soon turning to a book telling the story Passover, called the Haggadah, Newtown Congregational Church Senior Pastor Matt Crebbin read, “Listen to our story from generation to generation.”
In a recent interview, Rabbi Shaul Praver had said, “Seder is a spring holiday and commanded as such to be a spring holiday. It’s an interfaith Seder [on Sunday], so we share our different interpretations of what it means; Christians will see more of a Christian theology, and we will have our traditional view of things.”
The combined faith Seder would help different faiths “to learn one another’s view of things.” Interfaith Seders had been hosted at Congregation Adath Israel in 2011 and 2012. This year’s was the first at NUMC.
Rev Kawakami said, “I think since our experience on 12/14 we have gathered as a community of faith and we are continuing to share our faith backgrounds and fellowship — this is one opportunity to do so.”
During the Seder on Sunday, Rev Kawakami had said, “Imagine a world without freedom and of cruelty.” As Rabbi Praver had explained earlier, "The ancient Hebrews were slaves, and Moses the emancipator freed them and we began our own peoplehood who became the Israelites.”
During the feast, Rev Kawakami continued, “Passover reminds us to celebrate freedom and peace.”
Soon ushering in the holiday with candles, Rabbi Praver asked Margo Woodall, leader of Baha’i Faith of Newtown, to light tall tapered candles while the men covered their eyes, a ceremonial gesture.
Clergy members soon recited special prayers for boys and girls, asking for God’s blessing and kindness. Other blessings and prayers were offered, cups were raised in praise, and the guests soon began to explore the symbolic foods set out on the tables. Dozens of attendees filled ten large tables that had been set up in the church’s fellowship hall for the public event.
Remembering God’s promise of freedom, those gathered raised a glass of wine. They also reached for a sprig of parsley, symbolizing nourishment and springtime. And soon the clergy seated before the guests raised and waved their hands, “feeling the air wash through them.”
Also invited to lead the celebration at the main table this year were NCC Associate Pastor Alyssa DeWolf, Baha'i Faith member John Woodall, Trinity Episcopal Church Pastor Kathleen Adams-Shepherd, and Janice Touloukian, retired associate pastor of NCC.