Local people from eight different religions are expected to participate in an interfaith prayer service announced Tuesday by Mayor Tom Henry and three local religious and community leaders.
The event, Prayers for the City – A Celebration of One Community, Many Faiths, will take place at 4 p.m. May 5 at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center, 431 W. Berry St.
“The gathering is a celebration,” said one of the organizers, J. Tamir Rasheed, the amir, or leader, of the Islamic Center of Fort Wayne. “It is a recognition that we are one community.”
Henry announced the event at a news conference Tuesday morning at his office in Citizens Square. Along with Rasheed, other event planners participating in the announcement included the Rev. Terry Anderson, executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Fort Wayne, which serves homeless families; and Michael Spath, a continuing lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at IPFW and the founder and executive director of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace.
Henry said the idea to hold an interfaith prayer event for the community came to him about six to nine months ago.
He meets regularly with local clergy to discuss local concerns and how the faith-based community can get involved in addressing them. He then thought about how the community would benefit from a day of prayer involving local people of all faiths.
Henry hopes the show of unity sends a message to state and national government leaders to pass laws to help the city, state and nation.
"Break this stalemate," he said. "People are hurting right now."
He believes Prayers for the City will be the first community-wide interfaith prayer gathering in Fort Wayne since shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
The event will take place three days after the National Day of Prayer on May 2, but there is no conflict, Henry and interfaith event organizers said.
National Day of Prayer focuses more on prayer for local, state and national leaders, while Prayers for the City will concentrate more on bringing people of different faiths together to pray for the city, Anderson said.
Henry said he may participate in local National Day of Prayer observances. Some participants in the local National Day of Prayer, such as Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, also are expected to take part in the Prayers for the City event, Anderson said.
People who aren't part of any faith or who are unable to participate in Prayers for the City also are invited to pray for the city at their place of worship or at home, Spath said.
"We intend to invite broadly and widely," Spath said.
Plans call for the interfaith service to include prayers and Scripture readings from each of the faiths represented: Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Unitarian Universalist, Spath said.
The service also will include readings from noted people who have worked to bring about peace in the world, as well as music, song and dance.
A reception will follow. People are asked to bring a nonperishable food item, which will be donated to the Associated Churches food bank system or to Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana.
“We have come to see Mayor Henry as a deeply spiritual person, and he recognized the need for unity in the role religion plays in our community,” Rasheed said.
"All religious traditions, in their own way, call us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us," Anderson said, noting people are called to help those in greatest need, such as the poor, homeless and hungry.
Sharing prayer makes us better people and makes Fort Wayne a better place, he added.
At the same time, Fort Wayne has become more culturally and religiously diverse than ever in recent years, Rasheed and Spath said.
“Fort Wayne can no longer be considered the city of churches. It must be considered the city of faiths," Rasheed said.
But people in many of those faith communities don't know each other and haven't worked together, Henry said.
Organizers hope this will be the first of annual interfaith prayer services, and that it also will encourage dialogue, cooperation and partnerships among people of the different faiths, Spath said.
Through praying together, organizers hope the community will come together and take a stand against problems such as violence, drugs and poverty. We shouldn't have three young men gunned down in three days, which the city experienced last week, Rasheed said.
“I realize we have a long road to travel and there is much work to be done, but we are committed to making Fort Wayne a better place to live,” he said. “We can do that when the community gets involved.”