Melissa Appelt, a longtime member of First Church and current Board President of Interfaith Action of Evanston, made the following remarks near the beginning of worship on October 15, 2023.  Rabbi Rachel Weiss of the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue in Evanston served as our preacher that day.  In the midst of violence in Israel and Gaza and the pain and trauma experienced by our Jewish and Muslim siblings, Appelt reminds us that sympathy and friendship are most needed

First Church has been a member of Interfaith Action from the beginning, more than 35 years ago. We are one of 40-member faith communities in Evanston. Perhaps the Interfaith activities most familiar to us at First Church are the Thursday Soup Kitchen and the Overnight Shelter that is hosted for three weeks each winter in rotation with eight other faith communities. What you may not know is that First Church was the leader in committing to the overnight shelter every night of the winter months, rather than just when the temperature falls below 20 degrees. Other Interfaith activities include the Hospitality Center morning shelter, the Producemobile and SNAPGap that distribute fresh produce and hygiene products, and the Walk for Warmth on Martin Luther King Day, which will start out in our sanctuary before the walk through Evanston in visible support of our friends and neighbors who are homeless. These services and more are made possible by a multitude of angels—volunteers—whose importance is recognized in the annual Vision Keeper Dinner, when each faith community lifts up one of their own. Many in this room have been recognized in this way; David D’Arcy is our most recent.

But the mission of Interfaith Action goes beyond these critical services and activities: “Inspired by diverse faiths and shared values, Interfaith Action of Evanston serves people who are hungry or homeless, promotes interfaith dialogue, and advocates for the people we serve.”

This morning in the class on homelessness, we discussed advocacy and the many ways in which Interfaith Action and Joining Forces are speaking up and addressing issues of affordable housing, public restrooms, and budgets. We are diligent in these areas.

It’s that middle phrase of the mission statement that concerns me—promoting interfaith dialogue—this is where we need to do a better job. The horrific events of the past week in the Holy Land, the trauma and grief felt by our sibling faith communities at home, and the oversights and insensitivities by those of us who say nothing–all make me certain that we need to be more vigilant and proactive. Without going into details, Interfaith Action apologizes for our role in this—if you’re interested in knowing more, I’m happy to talk with you about it since I only have three minutes this morning.  

Many of us are struggling to understand the complexities of this situation where there are no easy answers. We don’t always know what to say, but I learned from the people around me at the Shabbat at JRC on Friday that simply showing up is important, letting our Jewish and Muslim friends know that we’re concerned. Recognizing their trauma and pain can help. So please consider saying a kind word to them. Let them know you care. Speaking up can help; staying silent can hurt.

And so, Rabbi Rachel, we welcome you to this safe space, and we hope you know that we walk with you in this uncertain time of terrible trouble.

To view the livestream of the worship service, click here.  Appelt’s comments begin at minute marker 12:40.