Candles were lit, songs were sung and prayers for world and personal peace were offered by faith and community leaders at the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge’s 26th annual Community Prayer Breakfast at Boudreaux’s on Tuesday morning.
“There are many places around the world where they can’t have this kind of gathering,” the Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, executive director of the group, said to about 250 people representing most of the faith communities of Baton Rouge. “Just look around and see how blessed we are to gather together for prayer.”
McCullough-Bade revved up the early morning crowd by leading a rap song composed by children participating in a summer Kids Café program at BREC’s Cadillac Street Park, called “Peace in the Streets.” An audio tape of the rapping children was played as the audience rapped to words printed in the program.
“Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace in the streets,” McCullough-Bade said as the crowd slowly caught on. “Stop the beef that’s in the street; They love that violence, Man, y’all need to stop all that killin’ so they could keep on livin’.”
Several of the speakers also referred to the closing verse by quoting “Stop the killin’ and keep on livin.’ Mama’s crying. Babies dying. Stop the shooting and the killin’.”
The Rev. Dr. Mary Moss, pastor of St. Alma Baptist Church, proclaimed “our village is in crisis. Someone once said the house is on fire and the children are inside. Our community is calling for a response.”
Ernad Nofal, chairman of the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge, told how he grew up in Gaza and his parents and extended family lived “under the occupation of other people.” When he and his wife moved to Baton Rouge 20 years ago, he said they were accepted by neighbors.
“If you fill your heart with love you will begin to act with compassion to others,” he said, then closed with a prayer spoken in Arabic.
Rabbi Jordan Goldson, of Congregation B’nai Israel, told a story of a carpenter who each time he arrived home from work, he touched a tree in front of his house before entering.
“That’s my ‘trouble tree’ where I hang my troubles because they don’t belong in the house with my wife and children,” Goldson quoted the carpenter. “As people of faith, we often use our religious practices and places of worship as trouble trees where we can check our troubles at the door.”
He explained that we must find “shalom” in Hebrew, which is often defined as ‘peace’ but actually means an internal calm — like the depths of a body of water despite waves on its surface — “so we are not whipped about by external circumstances.”
The Rev. Jeff Day, an Interfaith Federation founder, and Rabbi Barry Weinstein then lauded longtime Holy Grill cook Tonia Causey for her 25 years of service preparing untold thousands of meals.
Day reminisced how many hours he spent with Causey over the years and told how she explained to him to “stay prayed up” — “I didn’t know what that meant,” Day joked as the crowd laughed. “When (your) pots and pans and hearts and hands all come together your love becomes tangible.”
“You bring to life one of our Jewish commandments to bring life by putting food in our tummies so we can have beautiful peace,” Weinstein told Causey as he presented her with a check.
After a standing ovation, Causey thanked the audience, board members and volunteers.
“I hope I can continue for many more years,” she said.
Board members Jan Boydstun, of University Presbyterian Church, and Kenneth O’Rourke, Wesley United Methodist Church, read a prayer for the seven candles: civic leadership, police and military, justice, education, sports, children and youth, and parents and grandparents.
Faith and civic leaders from each of those seven areas lit the candles and took them back to their tables and they were used to light the other candles.
When the entire room was lit, McCullough-Bade led everyone in the anthem, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” which says “and let it begin with me.”
“And go make peace, peace, peace, peace, peace in the streets,” she exhorted to close the event.