On January 16, 2019, Religious Freedom Day, local faith and civic leaders gathered at the North American Division (NAD) headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, United States for the NAD’s first Religious Freedom Prayer Breakfast. They celebrated the freedoms enjoyed in the United States and prayed for guidance in further fostering and sharing it with others.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 78 percent of the world’s population is unable to worship their God in whatever way they see fit.
"We were just really hoping to bring together a lot of religious groups to pray together as a faith-based community — not worrying about what day we worship [on] or what type of house of worship that we’re in,” said Orlan Johnson, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and one of the event organizers. “Just the idea that we should all pray together and to seek the best that we can seek for our nation, for our community, for all of our loved ones, and we think we accomplished that today.”
Zainab Chaudry, Maryland outreach director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, “I feel like it is very important to have these kind of events, especially on days like today — Religious Freedom Day — because it is a reminder of the work that needs to be done to continue to protect religious freedom and religious pluralism in our country, especially when so many houses of worship and so many faith communities are being targeted by hatred, bigotry, and intolerance. … It is an affirmation of our shared values towards one another’s liberty and existence and security.”
The event also provided an opportunity for local ministry leaders to network with civic leaders and strategize about ways they can better serve their communities.
“We were appreciative of the support and affirmation this event received by the attendance of so many of our Columbia Union pastors,” said Melissa Reid, associate director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the NAD. “This was a chance not only to celebrate the religious freedom but also develop new friendships with fellow community leaders. There were business cards, handshakes, and hugs exchanged throughout the morning.”
“Outreach is the most important thing,” said Obie Chinemere, Baltimore regional director for U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “[Make] sure people have a connection with whoever is local. In Baltimore, we have some great pastors who do great work and members of the religious community who do great work. [We need to make] sure that people have an outlet or know that this is a place of worship they can come and talk about things and issues they may be having.” He continued, “If local churches have connections with local leaders and organizations, they can better help connect community members to those services.”
Paulo Macena, lead pastor at the Ellicott City, Maryland, Seventh-day Adventist church, added that when the pastors go into their local communities, they need to serve everyone. “They don’t have to agree with us for us to serve them. When we get together in groups like this, [it reminds us] we can serve each other despite our differences.”
Leaders plan to make the breakfast an annual event.