In response to the
attacks on September 11, 2001, artist members of The Church of St. Paul
and St. Andrew (SPSA) created "September 11: In Our Own Words," a creative
service for healing that used interviews from their church members, newly
composed music, spirituals, musical theater, hymns, folk music and modern
dance. The work was presented at SPSA and at an interfaith service with
B'nai Jeshurun. It also was performed at the New York Annual (Methodist)
Conference at Hofstra University and at Nantucket United Methodist Church
in the summer of 2002 and was very well-received.
enthusiastic response, the project's director felt that lingering
questions about September 11 remained to be explored: How could this group of people hate us so
much as to attack? How can our world of differing faiths be so disjunctive
that we don't understand where and how the other lives and experiences
life? Can we really be that far apart? How can we learn more about each
others' faiths and backgrounds? How can we meet and find a wider path on
which to walk together?
Jeshurun (BJ) and The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (SPSA) joined
together with member artists of the American Sufi Muslim Association (ASMA),
The Dialogue Project, and Muslims Against Terrorism (MAT) to develop a
creative program to focus on interfaith relations before and after
September 11, 2001.
developed 22 interview questions and established contact with individuals
who agreed to be interviewed.
goal for the interview process was to find the true multi-faith voices of
New York City.
interfaith interviewing team included 18 individuals who met one-on-one
with more than 100 New Yorkers.
organizations and friends reached out to a wide variety of New Yorkers in
all five boroughs.
demographic mix of interviewees fairly represented gender, race and a
range of religious practices within each major monotheistic faith in New
Sufi and Shii Muslims, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Hassidic Jews,
and Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, and Pentecostal Christians (as
well as agnostics, atheists and interfaith couples) were interviewed. These
included New Yorkers with histories from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh,
Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Austria, Puerto Rico,
Argentina and more.
one-on-one interview experience allowed barriers to break down, and
participants established many lasting relationships.
The interviews were
transcribed and the writers developed the material into an 80-minute
theater piece, titled "SAME DIFFERENCE: NYC Faith Stories in Words, Music
and Dance." With theater as the medium of expression, the audience heard
often harsh truths in the words of community members spoken by a third
person (the actor) in a safe environment. This distancing mechanism
actually allowed the audience to get closer to the meat of its dissonance
and conflicts more readily than would normally be possible. SAME
DIFFERENCE played in January 2003 to sold-out audiences and prompted an
overwhelmingly positive response from educators, clergy, media groups and
interfaith activists who want to bring the work and its methodology to
Although SPSA and BJ
have a long association (the Methodist congregation opened its doors and
sanctuary to the Jewish congregants after the synagogue's roof caved in a
decade ago) SAME DIFFERENCE has deepened and expanded this relationship.
The American Sufi Muslim Association (ASMA) has now joined these two
congregations to establish an ongoing interfaith committee. This committee
plans joint educational and social events throughout the year. One of
these is the Cordoba Bread Project, through which group members come
together to break bread, share cultures, and celebrate the tradition of
peace and coexistence that existed in medieval Cordoba, Spain. ASMA holds
educational and fellowship outreach events at SPSA. And the participants
have come together in BJ's sukkah during the autumn festival of Sukkot,
for an interfaith Passover seder in the spring, and at SPSA's Christmas
Eve service. Additionally, clerics from the three congregations attend
each others' services to share their traditions and worship experiences.
This has enabled individuals from the three congregations to get to know
one another on personal basis, thus intensifying their understanding of
each others' faiths. To members of
SPSA, BJ, and ASMA, the title SAME DIFFERENCE has great resonance, for
although each religion is different in its approach to culture and faith,
each meets the same basic needs.