The NJ Coalition of Religious Leaders gathered in at the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in South Bound Brook/Somerset, NJ for the formal semi-annual gathering on November 2, 2023.
The New Jersey Coalition of Religious Leaders, some fifty years old, represents religious leadership from Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith traditions. The Coalition's membership of some sixty-five faith leaders includes Bishops, Imams, Rabbis, Denominational Executives and faith based public policy executives.
In his introductory remarks, Amman Deep Singh Seehra, the Vice Chair and Northeast Regional Director for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), speaking on behalf of NJ Coalition of Religious Leaders, welcomed the participants to the meeting and expressed the gratitude of NJCRL to the UOC of the USA for hosting the meeting and invited Archbishop Daniel to address the gathering.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel welcomed the participants of the plenary sessions to the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and expressed his gratitude to the participants of the meeting for their continued support of Ukrainian refugees, especially those in the State of New Jersey.
“…we are gathered here on the 617th day of the genocidal aggression of the Russian Federation against the people of Ukraine, but we also offer our words of support and prayers for the peace in the Middle East, especially the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine. I welcome you to the Spiritual Center of the Church with the words of gratitude for the love and care you have shown the people of Ukraine, especially those that reside in our Garden State…”
Bishop John School of the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church welcomed the participants to the meeting and invited the religious leaders of NJ to offer prayers according to their Faith traditions for the peace in the world. The prayers were offered by Imam W. Deen Shareef, Governor of the Council of Imams in NJ; Ammam Seehra, Esq., Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Archbishop Daniel (Zelinsky) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA; Mr. Haresh Bhatt, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Madri and Cantor Risa Wallach, Temple Beth El.
In his prayer, Archbishop Daniel prayed for: “Almighty Eternal God, source of all compassion, the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.
We cry out to you, in anguish and horror, at the situation in Israel, Palestine and Ukraine.The images we are seeing, the stories we are hearing, of homes, hospitals, places of sanctuary, healing and care, destroyed.
We know that there are so many more stories which have not yet been told, and perhaps never will be, of precious lives lost, of grief and trauma beyond that which most of us can imagine.
Compassionate God, you know and understand the suffering of this world. There is no place beyond your reach; you are everywhere, even in places where we fear there is no hope left.
Where we are tempted to despair, your spirit brings mercy, and justice, and healing.
You call us, again and again, in times of conflict and destruction, to be attentive to those who are most vulnerable.
Give us the compassion to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.
The discernment to recognize the limits of our own wisdom, and to avoid those actions and words which may cause further harm.
Inspire in us a renewed commitment to walk humbly with you, seeking the peace and flourishing which you desire for all of your beloved children.
Hear the cries of the people of Ukraine, Israel, Palestine and some African nations, and yes, o Lord, our deeply divided United States of America.
Bring healing to those suffering from the violence, and comfort to those mourning the dead.
Empower and encourage the neighboring countries in their care and welcome for refugees.
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
O God of hope and Father of mercy, Your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs. Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence, and to seek reconciliation with enemies.
Inspire the FAITH communities around the world with compassion for the people of our afflicted nations, and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
O God, Who cares for all, let the whole of humanity who have one origin from you, form one family, without violence, without absurd wars and with brotherly spirit, to live united in peace. Amen.”
The day continued according to the set Agenda, building conversations around common concerns. Among the panelists were sara Fajardo, Policy Director ACLU of New Jersey; Nicole Rodriquez, NJ Policy Perspective; Lauren Doran, Director of NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
The discussion took place about the rising issues of human poverty (especially among children, since every 10th child in NJ is dealing with the hunger issues), medical reform, security and terrorism issues, as well as the upcoming elections in the State of New Jersey and the United States of America.
The participants of the plenary session reflected on the vital issue of the Garden State community: 38 million people in the US are food insecure. About 650,000 people in New Jersey face hunger every day. 175,000 of them are children. When they don’t have enough food to eat, they can suffer direct and dramatic effects on their physical development and mental well-being.
Listening to the presentation of Lauren Doran, Director of NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the participants of the conference learned about the ways of proving secure space of worship for the residents of the State. Addressing the issue of violence and terrorist threats in the State, the panelist reflected on the national program “See Something- Say Something!”, especially as it relates to the threats of the houses of worship in the Garden State. Finally, the cyber security of the religious communities was addressed as it relates to the issues coming from the foreign entities or the US based criminal organizations.
The participants of the meeting learned about the ways of getting involved and assisting the state government in addressing the issues of security in the faith communities across the state. New plans and initiatives were introduced and discussed for implementation.
The final payer before lunch was offered by Rev. Dr. Darell Armstrong of the General Baptist Convention of NJ, who offered his gratitude to the UOC of the USA for hosting the meeting.
The attendees of the Semi-Annual meeting were treated to a traditional Ukrainian luncheon of borsch and varenyky, prepared by the staff of the Consistory of the UOC of the USA and the Ukrainian Cultural Center.
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The history of the Coalition began in 1967 when than New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes called upon religious leaders to address the issue of civil unrest after the devastating Newark riots. Over it’s fifty year history the Coalition has provided opportunities for religious leaders to establish on going relationships of mutual respect and friendship and serve as a moral voice in the state addressing issues of social justice.
Those issues have included integrity in government, racial profiling, criminal justice reform, fair share housing, immigration, environmental justice, prevention of Gun Violence, hate crimes and racial equity. The Coalition membership meets annually with the New Jersey State Governor as well as meetings with elected federal and state Legislators. The Coalition has hosted meetings with noted National Religious Leaders and Religious Educators addressing the challenges that religious institutions are facing.
Vision Statement: The Coalition of Religious Leaders of New Jersey seeks to build informed relationships and collaborate around sacred values uniting us in action towards justice and mercy for the common good.