The Rev. Charles T. Smith and Rabbi Barry Weinstein stood together at the Community Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday morning and recreated the past.
Twenty-five years earlier, they together led a litany during the inaugural meeting of the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, known then as The Greater Baton Rouge Federation of Churches and Synagogues.
“Create a spirit within us that truly draws us toward you and toward our brothers and sisters,” they prayed then and Wednesday. “Clear our minds, open our hearts and touch us with your presence and your power.”
Their pairing during the Sept. 16, 1986, initial meeting at Congregation B’nai Israel was meant to demonstrate the federation’s purpose in bringing together black and white, Christian and Jew in friendship and common mission.
Wednesday’s repeat pairing of Smith, longtime pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, and Weinstein, now rabbi emeritus of B’nai Israel, served as a reminder of the federation’s beginnings in uncertainty and high hopes.
“How great it is and wonderful that we can come together in sisterhood and brotherhood,” said Weinstein, who also serves as rabbi to congregations in Lafayette and Lake Charles.
Much of this year’s prayer breakfast, held at Boudreaux’s on Government Street, served as a celebration of the federation’s history, including remembrances of such early leaders as the late Catholic Bishop Stanley Joseph Ott, but speakers also reminded the nearly 250 people in attendance of the work ahead.
“We pray that in the years to come we will do more to glorify thy name than we have done,” Smith said.
The Rev. Jeff Day, the federation’s first executive director, served for 20 years and returned Wednesday as keynote speaker.
Day, a former Baptist who is now pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ponchatoula, recalled the anxiousness of the federation’s early years when people would ask, “Do you think we will make it five years? Do you think we will make it to Christmas?”
What made the federation work and what will allow it to continue is relationships, he said.
“There is really nothing more important than relationships and keeping relationships,” he said.
Building and keeping those intercultural and interfaith relations is vital to overcoming the fears and misunderstandings that can divide, he said.
“When we can spend time getting to know each other and listening, we can let our feelings out and not feel afraid,” he said.
Those relationships also allow for ministry opportunities such as the federation’s efforts to feed people through the Holy Grill ministry or provide rides to the doctor through the Interfaith Caregivers program, he said.
Day challenged Baton Rouge area congregations to continue ministering together through the federation.
“It’s not so much who needs love and help, it’s where,” Day said. “And we go there as a federation family.”
Today, the federation has nearly 50 member congregations and is open to people of such faiths as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism as well as Christians and Jews.
The federation began with 22 charter congregations: Beth Shalom Synagogue, Broadmoor United Methodist Church, Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, Congregation B’nai Israel, Elm Grove Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, First Christian Church, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, St. Aloysius Catholic Church, St. Isidore Catholic Church, St. James Episcopal Church, St. Joseph Cathedral, St. Jude Catholic Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, University Baptist Church, University Presbyterian Church and University United Methodist Church.