By IFFP Graduate and COA Teacher Jared McGrath

Happy New Year and Welcome Back to Gathering. Welcome to our guests, friends and family.

In reflection of our 25th anniversary, the Epiphany and the New Year, I’d like to share a perspective on “Why We Gather.”

When I was 10, my parents enrolled me and my sister in IFFP, then just a two-room schoolhouse. That same year, our family hosted Karen, a teenage girl from Northern Ireland, to experience the peaceful melting pot of America. Between games of jacks and rocking out to the Cranberries, I listened to Karen’s stories about The Troubles in Ireland, about a once-united people that drifted apart over ideology. Entire communities – even families – divided. Karen was weary as she shared stories. “People stopped talking to each other,” she explained. However, Karen also loved that America, with all its differences, found a way to come together, to gather. It gave her hope for the future. I filed Karen’s lesson away.

A few years later, I was learning Hebrew to prepare for my Coming of Age ceremony, and also attending Catholic School, learning the teachings of Jesus. That same year, on the morning of September 11th, Karen’s lesson reappeared, this time on American soil. Ideology over understanding, violence over peace. 

In the aftermath, COA and Interfaith took on a new meaning to me. Yes, they connected me to an inclusive community and to my family traditions, but they also gave me the tools as a young person to grow into a complex world, to understand it, maybe even to help heal it. What an epiphany. This is why we gather, I thought. The lesson stuck.

There have been other moments since – many joys as well as concerns – though sadly, none more fresh in my mind than the events of January 6th. Now, as a COA teacher to some amazing young people forging their own paths into the world, I am reminded again of Karen’s lesson. Another small epiphany. Of what happens when we stop talking to each other, when we let our differences drive us apart.

Our world, our country, is a beautiful place, but we’ve just been reminded, both are in need of healing. Here in 2021, let us strive to repair the world. Let us aim to do all the good we can. Let us hope. And when we need support, let us lean on each other.  

This is why we gather. 

So Happy New Year. Now, let us gather and let’s get to work! Welcome back, everyone and love to all.

Thank you.

Jared McGrath