Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Celebrating Gratitude within the Beloved Community: The Interfaith Leadership Council’s First Annual Seasons of Gratitude Awards Dinner

I first become familiar with the term “the Beloved Community” in the book Open My Eyes, Open My Soul: Celebrating Our Common Humanity, by Yolanda King and Elodia Tate. Yolanda King, daughter of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., attributed the term to her father, which was used by him to describe humanity as a single family, with differences of race, religion, economic status, and nationality de-emphasized in favor of highlighting our similarities as humans, to demonstrate why we should not use such characteristics to divide us into opposing teams.

With this in mind, I couldn’t think of a more apropos term for the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC) to use at its First Annual Season of Gratitude Dinner to describe the interfaith community.

The dinner, held the evening of November 6 at Shriners Silver Garden Events Center in Southfield, was the inaugural event of the IFLC’s Season of Gratitude, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s institution of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

The Season of Gratitude initiative links faith communities with the civic community, through various Thanksgiving-related events hosted by multiple faith organizations around the Metro Detroit area throughout the month of November.

Before the dinner, we mingled in a reception room near the main entrance, which was set up with round tables throughout the room. One each table was set a few prayer or ritual items from a different religion. Since at least a dozen or more faith groups were represented by the event’s attendees, there were people on hand who identified and described the items representing their faith for anyone who wanted to know. Dress ranged from business-casual to flowing clergy robes, to other forms of cultural regalia.

I’m always rather shy when entering a big event, and upon arrival I didn’t see anyone I knew in the room yet. I made eye contact with a woman wearing distinctly Native American attire, and she smiled and came over to introduce herself to me. We “made friends” instantly as she put it, and talked throughout the whole reception, and introduced each other to our friends and colleagues as we met them.

This lovely lady was Judy Muhn, who was scheduled to give the invocation (prayer) before the dinner. She told me she’s a member of the Southeastern Michigan Indians, Inc. (SEMII) in Centerline, Michigan, an organization I am familiar with from many years ago, and that she is also affiliated with Renaissance Unity, an impressive Unitarian Christian congregation well-known to the interfaith community.

When we were seated in the main room, I picked up the evening’s program and flipped through the bios of the program participants. When I read Judy’s, I felt honored and humbled to have been instantly befriended by such an accomplished and remarkable community leader, when I’d had no idea while talking with her who she was or what she was known for. She gave an invocation inspired by her Lakota background, containing both English and Lakota words.

Another noteworthy person I had the pleasure of meeting was Audrey Geyer, an independent video director and producer whose recent work includes the documentary “Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience”. Geyer specializes in public affairs documentaries, drawing on her background in both film and social work. Her films have been shown on PBS before, and the Web site for “Our Fires Still Burn” includes local listings for when it can be seen on TV, as well as a link to use for purchasing the DVD. 

I was delighted to be seated at the table reserved for WISDOM, the Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit. WISDOM was honored with a certificate of achievement and community gratitude for hosting seven presentations of its signature “Five Women, Five Journeys” panel discussion program, for sponsoring the teen interfaith group Face to Faith, and for participating in the September A-OK (Acts of Kindness) Day of Service.

Throughout the dinner I looked around the room and saw many people from at least a dozen interfaith groups (both large and small), from Detroit Public Television, college students, and various business and media personalities I didn’t even know had any interest in or ties to the interfaith community, such as our Emcee, mainstream newscaster Bisi Onile-Ere.

The evening’s main awardee and keynote speaker was Paul Hillegonds, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for DTE Energy. The IFLC presented to Hillegonds the Visionary Civic Leader Award, demonstrating the IFLC’s commitment to forging ties between faith and civic communities.

This event was meant to be the kick-off of the IFLC’s increasing efforts to spread the spirit of the Beloved Community into the general culture of Southeastern Michigan, rather than keep it restrained to a niche initiative of a group of faith communities. The IFLC seeks to mainstream in a good way: 2013 saw its growth as an organization in members, funding, and the reach of its initiatives and programs. 

Thanks for reading, and I’ll continue to keep you posted on as much as I know about the wonderful things happening in the Metro Detroit area, which we hardly ever hear about in the mainstream news—at least not yet.

Illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; marker, colored pencil, watercolor, metallic gel pen, flower petal

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