New interfaith group seeks peace, justice: Messages of Faith

by The Very Rev. Tracey Lind for

On Monday, our nation will celebrate Labor Day. It will be marked by parades and picnics, and here in Cleveland, by the air show and the 10th annual Peace Show. With unemployment hovering around 9 percent and higher in cities like Cleveland, growing numbers of uninsured workers, collective bargaining under attack, and predictions of another recession, some might ask what there is to celebrate on a day that honors the American worker

In the faith community, we practice celebration regularly -- at least once a week in our liturgies, or acts of public worship. For Jews, it is the recitation of the Shema in synagogue worship; for Muslims, it is the practice of Salah; for Hindus, it is prayers and offerings of Puja; for Christians, liturgy includes the Eucharist and the Daily Office.

In its ancient Greek origins, the word leitourgia meant "public duty" -- a work of adoration and a service of respect offered to the state by an individual. In the Episcopal Church, we often say that liturgy is the work of the people to the glory of God.

The late William Stringfellow -- lawyer, theologian, writer and activist -- once wrote: "In the broadest sense, all of life is liturgical." Liturgy is the ethical witness of the faithful in this world. Thus, Labor Day ought to be a reminder to the faith community that God -- whom we address by many names and come to by many paths in life -- calls us to a life of public action for the good of the human enterprise and the rest of creation.

Our liturgical lives are drawn from our sacred texts. We are called to do justice and love kindness; to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive and the recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of God's favor. We are called to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked and care for the least and most vulnerable among us.

This Labor Day in Cleveland, many in the faith community of Cleveland are celebrating a new liturgy. Greater Cleveland Congregations, or GCC, a nonpartisan coalition of religious congregations and community organizations, has come together to make our region a more just and prosperous place. We have set aside our parochialism and differences, our limited self-interest, our cynicism and hopelessness, the mistakes of our past, and our fear of failure to rise together.

Beginning last year, with the support of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation's oldest and most respected community-organizing movement, lay leaders and clergy from some 40 congregations -- Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Unitarian -- conducted scores of one-on-one conversations, 200 house meetings and numerous training sessions, to identify our most pressing issues and concerns.

GCC unites people across lines of race, class, religion and geography to promote public, private and civic sector actions that will strengthen and improve the quality of life of our neighborhoods.

In a true act of liturgy, we are rising together in community, conviction, creativity and courage to organize and campaign for good jobs, accessible and affordable health care, safe and productive schools for our children, fair and equal treatment in our criminal justice system, and sustainable and healthy food. We are asking the deeper questions and seeking strategies that might move our community toward a strong common good.

Through GCC, we are challenging Clevelanders to imagine the change we can accomplish, connect individuals and organizations to multiply our power, and mobilize our members by the thousands to make our voices heard.

As in any organizing movement, we are taking our time to build membership, thoroughly understand the issues and articulate effective strategies for action. We hope to step out into action in the fall. To learn more about GCC, or join our effort, please visit our website at

Let's celebrate this Labor Day with a parade and a picnic and perhaps even oohing and ahhing at planes overhead. But let's also have our celebration include a procession for peace, a banquet of justice and a generous display of God's commonwealth on Earth.

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind is dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland.


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