Interfaith Prayer Service unites school in gratitude

Students from a diversity of backgrounds and traditions shared their stories and faith journeys.

The Thanksgiving Interfaith Prayer Service is a special day for Saint John's. With such a vibrant faith community made up of individuals from every faith background, this prayer service brings the students, faculty, staff, and administration together in a unique way.

Before Thanksgiving break, student reflections, prayers, and songs allow a moment of reflection on gratitude, gifts, and generosity. Highlighting the faith lives of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish students emphasizes the unity not only of the Saint John's community, but of all people.

The Student Activities Council presented the food and donations gathered by the school to Fr. Jose Rodriguez. In addition to the food items for St. John's Food Pantry, this month's No Shave November program brought in over $2,500 for St. John's Parish, St. Jude's, and the American Cancer Society. This month-off from the no-facial-hair dress code for seniors and faculty was conditional upon participants purchasing and wearing a lapel pin for the month of November to support cancer awareness, and all proceeds supported those local and national causes. 

Several students representing the wide range of faith traditions from which the student body comes shared stories of their spiritual journeys during the moving service. The common thread of gratitude wove together the traditions. Sophomore Muhammad Farraq shared a Muslim Prayer of Thanksgiving and spoke about the deep similarities between Islam and Christianity. Junior Kush Patel offered a reflection on Hinduism and how his family's tradition of Diwali mirrors Thanksgiving in its expressions of gratitude and community. Kepei Lei, a senior, spoke from the perspective of an international student whose path has brought him much for which to be thankful, from friends to opportunities to discover his passions, before sharing a Buddhist prayer. Junior Denzel Darteh read a Christian prayer of Thanksgiving, and Benjamin Scharf, also a junior, offered a reflection on his Jewish pride in a short prayer thanking God for bringing a new season and community in which to celebrate it. "I hope that you feel more than welcome to offer up this prayer of Thanksgiving to God," he encouraged his peers, "however you may address Him. God, Adonai, Christ of Lord, Allah, or by whatever name you may call Him, a prayer is a prayer."

As Ben poignantly reflected, "no matter in what language one chooses to speak, in what setting one chooses to worship, or with whom one chooses to surround themselves during prayer, I would love to think that all of our prayers, somehow, reach the same place."

Following his reflection, the unique faith life of his religiously diverse family, and the links that join people of all faiths, Ben performed a stirring rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah as the full Coaches Pavilion reflected, joining in on the chorus. Listen here.

"Hallelujah" performed by Ben Scharf '18 from Saint John's High School on Vimeo.

Math teacher Mr. Michael Gualtieri prepared a touching reflection on how setbacks in life ultimately revealed to him the most meaningful things and people in his life.

The rest of the school then had a chance to pray in their own ways and write down the things for which they are most thankful. 

Pictures of the 2016 Thanksgiving Interfaith Prayer Service can be found here.

2016 Thanksgiving Interfaith Prayer Service