As Chautauquans this summer have been learning about the challenges facing interfaith work in a divisive era, four young adults of different faiths have been learning how to share their light.
Chautauquans will gather to honor the roots of the Abrahamic faiths and the experiences of these young people — the coordinators of the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults — during the Sacred Song Service at 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater. This year’s theme, as chosen by the APYA coordinators, is finding the light in fear and anxiety.
“We each have a light within us; when we come together that light becomes so much more powerful,” the coordinators said in a statement.
The APYA program, designed to promote interfaith work and understanding among young people of faith, brings together one Christian, one Jewish and two Muslim young adults. Most are in seminary studying to become faith leaders, meaning that their experiences at Chautauqua Institution could influence the next generation of worshippers.
During the service, the coordinators will reflect on how the experience has shaped their worldview. Omar Bayramoglu, the male Muslim coordinator, said they will talk about how they “got the light.” The other coordinators are Nikhat Noorani, Zoë Garry and Will Hall.
In addition to reflections, the coordinators have chosen songs that represent their individual experience. Bayramoglu said his choice is “Nihavend Ilahi” because it asks for love from God and discusses “moving from darkness and terror into light.”
The coordinators chose to base the theme on finding light in the darkness because it is a recurring theme in all three Abrahamic faiths. Bayramoglu said the light is within every person, but is also external as a means for the young faith leaders to guide people away from fear.
“It’s the light of the Prophet Muhammad, the light from Jesus Christ, the light that comes off Moses who guided the Jews, that makes the hardship of life that much more bearable,” Bayramoglu said.
The service will still include anthems from the Chautauqua Choir and hymns for the congregation. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, said he will include pieces that are multifaith, which are becoming increasingly easier to find over the years.
One of the more poignant moments of the service will be the lighting of three large pillar candles by the APYA coordinators, Jacobsen said.
“There’s something about this all happening as the night is closing in on us,” Jacobsen said. “Those three candles that we lit at the beginning, they kind of shine bright and brighter as it gets darker around them.”
The candles represent the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which all originate with the biblical family of Abraham. The family will be on full display during the service in the form of five large artworks designed for the Institution in 2003.
Jacobsen said he loves seeing all of the faiths come together in one worship service, though he understands that interfaith conversations can still be difficult. He makes sure to include different languages, though, and to not translate everything in order to push people out of their comfort zone. If the program changes even one person’s mind, he said, then it is a success.
“I think that in 2017 the world is bigger … and is more accessible,” Jacobsen said. “So for us to ignore the fact that there are two other great monotheistic faiths … then Chautauqua would have its head in the sand.”