Audrey Steinkamp

Walking toward the New Haven Green on Sunday afternoon, passersby were met with a chorus of prayers that rained through the cool November air as New Haveners bundled together in celebration of the Mayor’s Day of Prayer.

The event, which took place in front of the Center Church on the Green, was organized by Mayor Toni Harp as a way to gather the community as one spiritual body. Representatives of the city’s diverse religions came together to sing songs of worship and offer messages of thanks and love to their audience of eager listeners. The audience was encouraged to participate in the celebration, resulting in cheering, dancing and hugging among participants.

In her opening address, Harp emphasized that this event was meant for all New Haven residents and that she was grateful to see the high spirits of everyone present.

“I simply want to welcome everyone and acknowledge the spirit manifest in all of us,” Harp said. “I want to thank you for your commitment to unity and dedication to the singleness of purpose. … We are one city united today by prayer.”

The city’s diversity was evident in the range of both attendees and speakers. Prayers were offered in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic by religious officials from centers across the city, each emphasizing the importance of keeping faith in turbulent times. Recognizing the tensions created by today’s social and political climate, Kevin Ewing, minister for the Center Church reminded worshippers that “working without remembering the spirit of compassion” fails to accomplish real change.

Abraham Hernandez, New Haven’s chapter director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, focused his speech largely on the prospect of change created by New Haven’s youth.

“If we can see it, we can have it,” Hernandez said. “[Change] is in the dreams and visions of young people.”

The speeches encouraged audiences to be more mindful and spiritual in their daily lives. Exclamations of “Amen” and “God bless” rang out from the audience throughout the various sermons.

Kevin Boykin, a New Havener who was called to perform a song at the event with a group of his friends, cited prayer as an increasingly important part of his life. After his performance, he continued to participate in the event in support of the community and prayerful life.

Other worshipers, like Ashlee Ard, came to the event at the invite of their churches. Ard attended with her family after hearing about the celebration through her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Yale’s own Omer Bajwa, director of Muslim life in the Chaplain’s Office, spoke to the audience about the presence of God, reminding them that all people are God’s people.

“We live in an insane world, and in the midst of tragedy people always ask, ‘Where is God?’” said Bajwa. “It’s not ‘Where is God?’ it’s ‘Where are the people of God?’ — that’s the question.”

Dori Dumas, president of the Greater New Haven Chapter of the NAACP, said that she came to the event not because of her leadership role in the city, but because whenever people are brought together and uplifted through prayer, good things happen.

“In this world, we only hear about deep seated hate,” Dumas said. “Love needs to win, so we worship together.”

The Yale University Chaplain’s Office offers resources for 13 religious affiliations.

Audrey Steinkamp | audrey.steinkamp@yale.edu