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Norwich faith leaders pray for peace and healing on eve of presidential inauguration

Norwich — Religious leaders from nearly a dozen faiths came together online Tuesday evening to pray collectively “to begin the first step to restore inner peace and national harmony” on the eve of Wednesday’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.

The online prayer vigil, organized by the Norwich Area Clergy Association with the stated goal to “put an end to the hate that continues to challenge and hurt us,” allowed faith leaders to share their traditions and offer words and prayers for the upcoming four years of the Biden administration. More than 40 people attended in the Zoom conference, including faith leaders who interspersed prayers, reflections on their approaches to politics and elections and inspirational music.

“Tonight, we come together as a community to pray,” said Rabbi Julius Rabinowitz of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Norwich, president of the Norwich Area Clergy Association. “To pray for our country, to pray for our community, to pray for the many who are hurting right now, and we pray for wisdom for our leaders at this most difficult time. Tonight, none of us take a side. We neither support nor oppose any officials or candidates or any specific cause.”

The musical interludes started with Faye Ringel singing “America the Beautiful” with Roz Etra accompanying on piano and concluded with Ringel singing, “Let there be Peace on Earth.”

Participants referenced more than the Nov. 3 election and Wednesday’s inauguration. Faith leaders touched upon the COVID-19 pandemic, the divisiveness that now grips the country and relations with nations worldwide.

“Help us God to set our eyes, our ears, our hearts, our spirits, our actions on that which you would have us do to begin the healing and wholeness and restoration and reconciliation that is your will for us,” said the Rev. Paul Doyle, pastor of the Park Congregational Church in Norwich. “Help us to tap into the faith that keeps us working and believing, even if it seems like what it would take would be a miracle. Because we know, loving God, you still create miracles.”

Halim Jones, representing the Muslim community of Norwich, said Muslims view elections through the Muslim outlook that the believer is in between patience and gratitude. With patience, Jones said, they emphasize hope.

“For the sake of unity and togetherness, we’re patient when things don’t go our way,” Jones said. “And when things do go our way, we’re grateful, and part of that gratitude is a humility that leads to being kind to others in knowing that it’s a blessing from the Almighty.”

The Rev. Mary Robinson, pastor at St. Mark Lutheran Church, said the nation is grieving at the loss of more than 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19, but she thanked God for the ability to reach out and receive the grief expressed by others.

Robinson shifted to a plea for peace in the United States and in the world. She prayed that people give glory to God, and not to the outgoing president or incoming president, and prayed that people would be humbled by the protests and seek peace.

The Rev. Lynell Axson, former pastor of the Evans Memorial AME Zion Church in Norwich, offered a wide-ranging prayer, asking for blessings for Norwich and surrounding communities, the outgoing and incoming president, leaders throughout the world and for everyone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19.

“And mend this country,” she prayed, “because we really need a healing. And I ask that the vaccine they got, that it cure the situation we have here.”

Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, leader of the Sikh community in Norwich and Connecticut, said Sikhism has concepts of the importance of spirituality and politics in daily life that teaches lessons that political decisions must reflect “human wellness.” Khalsa prayed for a peaceful transition of power.

“Today we pray to that one Almighty God,” Khalsa said, “please give our leaders strength to do what’s right. Please give them courage to stand up for righteousness. We pray to give them vision to make appropriate decisions, which empowers citizens of this country. We pray, please Lord, guide them so they can take bold steps to end this division and hate based upon caste, color, religion, etc.”

c.bessette@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the Rev. Lynell Axson's position.

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