I was more than a little surprised to read that one-word reaction to a Facebook post Sunday night, in which I described taking part in an annual interfaith Thanksgiving service in my neighborhood. The event, held at a reform temple near my home in Queens, brought together nearly a dozen Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy — an imam was to attend, but got delayed and couldn’t make it — along with a few hundred congregants from the different churches.
The commenter who weighed in with “Yuck!” explained that he’s not a fan of interfaith gatherings. So I thought I’d explain just what we did.
We began by singing that Thanksgiving classic, “We Gather Together”:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing / in grateful devotion our tribute we bring / we lay it before you / we kneel and adore you / we bless your holy name / glad praises we sing.
That was followed by more singing, and readings from scripture.
I read a passage from the Gospel According to St. Matthew, which includes these words:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
A rabbi, filling in for the imam, read this section from the Quran:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Praise be to God, Lord of all that is created. The Beneficent, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Requital. It is you that we worship and it is you that we seek support from. Guide us to and on the path of integrity. The path that you bestow your favors upon. Not the path that has earned your wrath. Nor the path of those whom are astray. Verily, my prayers and all my actions, my living and my dying, are for you, O Lord, of all that is created.
The Presbyterian minister offered a short but stirring homily on the “path to gratitude.”
One of the choirs launched into a rousing rendition of “Soon and Very Soon.” Two of the reform temple’s choirs — one of adults, one of children— offered “Ki Eilecha” and “Roll Into Dark.” We took up a free will offering for the International Rescue Committee (www.rescue.org.), raising about $1,600. (Last year’s collection, for Doctors Without Borders, raised a similar amount.) A minister read John F. Kennedy’s Thanksgiving Proclamation from 1962.
Then, as a final prayer, all the clergy offered the Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6: 24-26).We concluded by singing two verses of “America the Beautiful” — and that was followed by a little hospitality with a lot of food.
It was a wonderful evening.
There was no agenda to this event, other than to build a sense of community, fellowship and neighborliness. New York City is a big, bustling, crowded place, with many faiths and nationalities squeezed into tight quarters, and this annual gathering serves to remind us how vital and valuable it is for us to get along and (to coin a phrase) build bridges.
Nostra Aetate declares:
We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).
No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.
The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15)
Also, there is this: during this brutal and divided moment in our history, an event like this one affirms once again that those things which unite us are far more powerful than the ones that divide us. In a time of persecution, anxiety, hardship and grief, when so many of us are facing violence and discrimination, we stand together in our shared hope and faith in one God. We hold that belief is stronger than unbelief; that mercy trumps hate; and that dialogue and community-building will help us to leave behind a better world for our children. Indeed, the voices of children were heard often during this service, singing songs of tenderness and joy. They need to see us doing this, teaching them by example what it means to love one’s neighbor.
And I think we all need to realize that community — a sense of belonging, contributing, building — is just one more thing to be thankful for this holiday. We are blessed.