A local congregation, St. Philip”s Episcopal Church in San Jose, has for many years held a special liturgy in September called “A Celebration of the Land and Her People.” St. Philip”s, a multicultural, multiethnic community, has taken this opportunity to recognize the changing face of California, and the diversity of the local congregation.
The liturgy honors the original Native American inhabitants by incorporating rituals such as smudging and honoring the four directions. As each subsequent group of immigrants– Hispanics, Europeans, Africans, Asians– are welcomed, there is a recognition of the gifts that each community has brought to this place, and of the conflicts and prejudices that have also marked our relationships with each other.
Central to the liturgy is the recognition that here “we have all come from somewhere else.” This has two strong implications: we have come from somewhere else, and bring with us our unique heritages, customs, cultures and languages. But we have come from somewhere else; California is not the “Old Country,” and we are challenged to build together this new community, honoring our diversity and yet discovering how to value and live with each other.
The Celebration of the Land and Her People honors the diversity within one larger group– the Christian church, which at its best brings together people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” to find reconciliation and mutual care. But this challenge extends to all religious communities in our neighborhood. It is the same for Muslims, gathering folks from Indonesia, Africa, Arab countries, India or the United States. It is the same for Buddhists, whether Chinese, Indian, Japanese, or American born.
A friend remarked of an experience he had in which the Esalen Center wanted to have a ceremony to honor the land where the center is established. They asked a local Native American group to help them develop a ritual. The Native American leaders were willing to help, but a little puzzled by the request. “The land is yours now; you are the ones entrusted with its care,” they said.
As the whole community who are now entrusted with the care of this place, we continue to work toward finding ways that the Celebration of the Land and Her People may include all of us– regardless of where we came from or what our religious traditions may be.