"You are meeting people face to face, hearing their stories, experiencing a chant together," said the Rev. Steve Harms, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church on Camino Tassajara in Danville. "They don't often get to experience what they will experience here."
The festival is a chance for people to talk to each other, perhaps inquiring about another's religion or maybe just asking simple questions such as where they live and what school their children attend.
"Basic kinds of connection are made," said Harms. "You begin to see that the other is not so strange. You start to appreciate the gifts they've got to offer."
For the last three years at the Interfaith Festival, people have made connections, he said. "It's a whole other thing to chant with the Sikhs - what that means inside of your body - instead of reading a book."
Harms recalls talking to Rabbi Dan Goldblatt several years ago about starting the festival.
"There was this marvelous configuration on the calendar - Ramadan, Rosh Hoshana - all those things fell on the same Sabbath weekend," Harms said. "The energy this has created is, frankly, very unique."
Harms and Goldblatt are both active members of Interfaith - San Ramon Valley, which hosts a thanksgiving celebration each November as well as peace vigils, social action for affordable housing, educational events and other gatherings.
"There are other places on the globe where people of various religions have overlapped but aren't many where they have lived together with a desire to understand each other," said Harms.
He noted that although some in the United States may consider themselves interfaith, how and where it gets expressed can be random, depending on opportunity.
"Lots of people like the idea of interfaith - yeah, we should all get along. But most often it comes down to several Christian congregations and the local rabbi," he said.
The first Interfaith Festival for Families at Peace Lutheran drew about 150 people, Harms recalled, and last year had grown to 300-400.
"There are dialog panels, dancing, chants, the Sufi Dances of Universal Peace. The Sons and Daughters of Orpheus have an incredible drumming crew ... The MA Center on Crow Canyon Road will be doing chanting," he said.
"I wouldn't miss this for the world," said Goldblatt, spiritual leader of Beth Chaim Congregation. "This is a great day - a dream world we all want to live in."
For the past three years, groups have had informational booths and food tables. Something new this year will be making mandalas for the center portion of the Peace Lutheran interfaith mosaic, which was purposely left open for the mandalas to change according to celebrations.
"There will be a healing mandala, and the Sufis are working on a winged heart," said Harms. "We are drawing together young people from various communities to make a youth mandala."
Peace Lutheran is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
"We have found it nothing but enriching to explore faith questions with leaders from other congregations," said Harms. "It sharpens our perspective ... at no time has it been threatening."
"There's a lot at stake," he said. "Exploration of understanding who we are together in this life on this planet is one of the key critical questions of our time. By our unwillingness to understand who 'they' are, we will by default eliminate them, they don't matter."
"You can't hate someone as easily when you know their name," he added.
"We want to stand up and affirm that people of faith bring meaning and purpose into our lives," said Goldblatt, "especially at this time when religion is seen as a source of divisiveness in the world.
"I think there's a common well of the sacred," he continued. "When archeologists start a dig they often find, on a hill, the remains of a church and as they dig down the different strata they find the remains of a mosque, a synagogue. There is a sense of where the sacred is that transcends individual faith traditions."
"Talking with people and being together with others is always a learning experience," he said. "There are different kinds of learning - this is about wisdom of the heart."
Goldblatt compares faiths to different organs: Each is vital for the body to be healthy and whole.
The event begins at 2 p.m. with Rabbi Goldblatt blowing the Shofar. A blessing of the animals takes place during the first hour.
"We come from different places of truth. We honor and educate ourselves and come together, share our own spiritual truth, our own histories," said Goldblatt. "We come together into the universal appreciation of people who struggle with meaning. We have panel discussions and people who share different perspectives. It's a great opportunity to practice compassionate listening, to celebrate the joy of being in the presence of others who come from different backgrounds and faith communities."
There is also a ceremony to call the festival of sharing to an end.
"Everyone leaves with a smile on their face," Goldblatt said. "It's such a joyous day."
Holy Convergence: An Interfaith Festival for Families
What: A celebration of Ramadan (Islam); The Feast of St. Francis (Christian); High Holy Days (Jewish); Divali and Gandhi's Birthday (Hindu); Indigenous People's Day; In Love with Life Season (Buddhist and Bahai); World Communion Sunday (Protestant Christian); Sikh Guru Gadhee
When: 2-5:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 28
Where: Peace Lutheran Church, 3201 Camino Tassajara Road, Danville