Leading prayer in Wallingford: An opportunity and responsibility

By Rabbi Bruce Alpert

As one of the local clergy who is occasionally asked to lead a prayer at the opening of Wallingford Town Council meetings, I was happy to see that the Council both took up the question of whether such prayer should be continued and then voted to do so. I salute Councilor Gina Morgenstein for having the courage to raise the issue even as I am heartened to hear that this practice will continue.

I imagine I am one of the few non-Christian clergy who are asked to lead such prayers. I view doing so as both a responsibility and an opportunity. The responsibility is in crafting a prayer that expresses the hopes and needs that are common not only to all faiths, but to the many people whose religious aspirations steer them principally toward being good and responsible neighbors and citizens.

Fortunately, so much of the teaching that the major Western faiths hold in common is geared toward such universal messages that one can usually meet this responsibility quite easily.

The opportunity leading such prayers affords me is the chance to teach. Jews make up a very small part of the Wallingford community and I like to use these moments of prayer to deepen the appreciation of our ancient faith among those in attendance.

One time I was asked to lead the Council’s prayer was the week in which our regular Torah portion included the Ten Commandments. This gave me an opportunity to reflect with the Council not only on our shared moral heritage, but also on what it means to feel oneself commanded; to hold oneself responsible to a higher authority, whether that be God or the public welfare.

Another time I was asked to lead the prayer was during the days between our festivals of Passover and Shavuot — holidays that celebrate, respectively, the attainment of freedom and the giving of the Law.

This gave us an opportunity to reflect on how freedom and law are connected and how they mutually serve one another. Each time I have led the Council’s prayer, I have tried to deepen the understanding of Judaism while drawing a lesson from its teachings that would apply to all of us — regardless of our religion or religious commitments.

In that way, I have tried to use this opportunity to make our community more knowledgeable, more respectful and more open to one another. Others can judge my success.