After 20 years, World Sabbath, a Detroit faith-based event that brings youth and adults together one Sunday each year to offer prayers of peace as an answer to global wars and conflict, is changing leadership. Birmingham language arts and social studies teacher Rick Joseph, who in 2016 was recognized by the Northwest Evaluation Association as Michigan Teacher of the Year, will take over the chairmanship position as Gail Katz steps down after 20 years of involvement and service.
Usually held in March, World Sabbath draws hundreds of worshippers and participants into a house of prayer into a multi-sensory experience with prayers, songs, and dance. Planning a future event will be a challenge due to the ongoing pandemic, Joseph acknowledges. The next in-person World Sabbath is not slated until early 2022 and is set to be hosted by Temple Israel. To mark the day in 2021, Joseph hopes he can coordinate with local religious leaders and educators to create an online compilation and collection of expressions and prayers for peace across Detroit’s diverse faith population.
Joseph believes that World Sabbath is the embodiment of “what makes us spiritual beings and is a celebration of the ties that bind us in how we come together in peace to acknowledge the Creator.”
Children participating in the Parade of Flags, World Sabbath
“Coming together as we do each year at World Sabbath helps create a more peaceful loving world. I am looking forward to cultivating relationships with local religious and educational leaders to increase the diversity represented at World Sabbath.
As a social studies teacher, Joseph always encourages his students to have deeper conversations by asking hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions to learn how to respectfully engage in civic discourse. Joseph said that sometimes, questions that can come off as offensive are okay if they are framed in a curious, non-accusatory manner. When a student learns effective communication tools such as how to ask questions on sensitive topics, everyone comes out ahead if it means those questions lead to learning and understanding more about another student’s religious or ethnic backgrounds.
“There are no elephants in my classroom. No topic – religion, politics, race – is off the table. And though sometimes some questions or opinions raised by one student may seem offensive or even bigoted to another, I see them asking the question from a point of curiosity. It is then my job to reframe the question so it will have constructive and educational results.”
Joseph looks forward to his new role and hopes to continue Katz’s legacy of “creating community wherever she goes and whomever she comes in contact with.”
“Gail Katz is truly one of the most inspiring educators that I know. She is a true role model for me. From her work on World Sabbath to starting Religious Diversity Journeys, she has shepherded and facilitated relationships that span across religious differences and across Metro Detroit. She is somebody whom I aspire to and will continue to learn from as I move into this position.”
As a Catholic, Joseph looks to the verse from the Book of Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” for inspiration as he embarks on this new leadership chapter in his life to encouraging others across faiths to seek to achieve peace. He is eager to work with other faith leaders who can bring youth from different faith and ethnic perspectives together for future World Sabbath events.
There is a possibility that there will be an online event in 2021 and for that, he is seeking people to submit videos illustrating peace practices in their religious traditions, rituals, or texts.
A World Sabbath History
In 2000, Detroit area pastors Rev. Rod Reinhart and Rev. Ed Mullins introduced Katz to the program concept as they sought to create an annual peace event for clergy as a reaction to wars going on around the world.
When Rev. Reinhart and Rev. Mullins departed the Detroit area in 2004 and turned the coordination of World Sabbath over to Katz.
At the time, she was a Middle School teacher so she put her own spin on the event by asking area youth to participate and offer prayers of peace instead of clergy.
Twenty years later, Katz said it is time to “pass the championship torch on” to Joseph.
“I’m looking forward to staying on the World Sabbath committee and watching Rick take over as the new chairman of the World Sabbath, who will add his own insights and new ideas to the event as he encourages his own students to become involved in projects that increase their understanding of diversity.”