New Year’s Eve concert to bridge religious faiths, offer voices in song

Father William J. Watters (Photo by Heather M. Ross)

Baltimore’s religious communities are once again coming together to celebrate their diverse faiths and to share thanks for the blessings of the past year at the annual New Year’s Eve prayer celebration, to be held at St. Ignatius Church in Baltimore.

It marks the 30th anniversary of the music-based event that draws between 500 and 700 people, each year adding a new chapter to the history of the local interfaith community.

According to William J. Watters, the reverend who started this tradition, the event began in 1993 with an idea inspired by a similar gathering in Europe. His favorite part, he says, is the emphasis on a diverse crowd there for a singular purpose.

“When we all gather for this, it’s so representational of the people of Baltimore — the faith traditions, the backgrounds and the colors. We all have this wonderful celebration,” he says.

“It gives us a chance to come together,” continues Watters, “a way for all of us from different faith communities. We live in an age of secularism, where people may not have much of a religious tradition. This interfaith celebration helps us to notice that religious communities are alive in Baltimore. It reminds us that it’s not just ourselves who keep the faith; it’s a reminder of common religious community.”

(Photo by Heather M. Ross)

‘It opens up the world’

At a time when antisemitism has risen in the country and the world, the joining of religious voices represents strength in both numbers and faith.

The Dec. 31 program also marks the third generation of pastors hosting the event at St. Ignatius, with Pastor Brian Frain taking on the role this year.

Frain recognizes the important role the celebration continues to play in uniting the religious communities of many faiths throughout the city: “It opens up the world to the participants, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

The service this year will begin with a Buddhist call to prayer by Daiko Matt Fetting.

The celebration will also include the singing of psalms and prayers after an opening prayer by Archbishop William E. Lori. Prayer will also be led by Rabbi Naomi Zaslow of Beth El Congregation in Baltimore and Imam Ismet Akcin of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, who will read from the Koran.

Rabbi Naomi Zaslow (Courtesy)

“While retaining our own unique faith traditions, it is humbling to be able to come together in prayer,” states Zaslow. “As a community, we dream brightly together for a new year.”

The annual event draws hundreds from the community, including local politicians and dignitaries. Those expected to attend include Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan; Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott; Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison; and Terrence Sawyer, president of Loyola University, who will be stating the petition for education.

Frain says one of the aspects of the concert he looks forward to most is the sheer array of music, which will feature the St. Ignatius choir, instrumentalists, guest soloists and a brass ensemble. The pieces are chosen each year by the church’s choir director, Paul Teie.

The historic church, which is constructed in Italianate-style brownstone, has been a fixture in the city for more than 100 years. One of Baltimore’s oldest Roman Catholic churches, it was constructed in 1856 and underwent remodeling in 1884 when it gained its iconic stained-glass windows. The building was also restored between 1998 and 1999.

The program at St. Ignatius Church, at 740 N. Calvert St. in Baltimore, begins at 8:30 and should end by 9:30 p.m. Pre-event music will start at 8 p.m.

Note to visitors: Free street parking with a two-hour limit is available near St. Ignatius and
behind the state building across the street from the church. To access that parking lot, go to Monument Street East off Calvert Street. The entrance is on the north side of the street.

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