Faiths united in thanksgiving

Celebration: Representatives from many religions gather to continue a decades-old tradition.

November 16, 2001|By Jean Leslie | Jean Leslie,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On Wednesday, many Americans will be stirring gravy and baking green bean casserole in preparation for their Thanksgiving feast. But Howard County residents might want to drop their spoons and turn off the oven so that they can participate in a unique worship opportunity.

Believers of many faiths gather annually to thank God in the Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service celebration, now in its 34th year.

"Our agenda at Thanksgiving is to be grateful. So no denomination owns this holiday," said cantor Jan Morrison of the Columbia Jewish Congregation. "It's about family and sharing - it's America at its best."

Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863; traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday in November, it was changed by act of Congress in 1941 to the fourth Thursday of that month.

Columbia's Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service began when Deacon George Martin and the Rev. John Walsh of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church decided to hold the 1967 Thanksgiving Eve Service. Since Columbia was new and Wilde Lake Interfaith Center was not built, the first service was held at Slayton House. This year it's at the Oakland Mills Meeting House.

"We gathered the first year to thank God for this new place [Columbia]," Martin said.

Thirty-four years later, the service is going strong as the faith communities of Bahaists, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Methodists, Muslims and Unitarian-Universalists continue to give thanks together. "I think that the Thanksgiving service keeps going because of the commitment of the planning group," Martin said. "And I want to see it happen, so some of it is my initiative."

The volunteers who plan and participate have been remarkably loyal. Morrison has participated for eight years while Baha'i member Harold Brown has been involved 15 years. Alvin Thompson of St. John's Methodist-Presbyterian congregation has been active in the service for 10 years.

Murray Simon, retired rabbi of the Calah Congregation,Akil Rahim, member of the Muslim congregation Dar-Al-Taqwa, and the community organization, Ambassadors for Peace, have participated in the service for 20 years. These devotees have sacrificed those Thanksgiving eves of baking and stirring for the benefit of giving thanks in the ecumenical spirit.

"I have stayed on the planning committee because it offers me an opportunity to participate in an interfaith program. It builds understanding between the faiths," Rahim said.

The theme of this year's service is God's Peace in Thanksgiving. "With recent events, it seemed appropriate this year," Brown said.

The Rev. Richard Nugent of the Columbia Unitarian-Universalist Church will lead the opening prayer. Rahim will sing "Al-Fatihah," a chant from the Quran. A Thanksgiving message will be delivered by Imam Mutee A. Muzalim from the Masjid-Al-Inshirah in Woodlawn.

Music also will include songs from the Christian and Baha'i tradition sung by the children's choirs from St. John the Evangelist and Columbia Baha'i congregations. The Methodist-Presbyterian hand bell choir will perform "Simple Gifts," "American Medley" and traditional hymns. Morrison will teach the congregation the closing song, "And then."

One portion of the service will be the sharing of faith statements, when members of eight religions will explain the significance of giving thanks in their traditions. Statements will include perspectives of many religions. All music and liturgy are "absolutely ecumenical and applicable to everybody," Morrison said. "It's just a good-spirited, strong human thing to do."

The planning committee expects a good crowd next week.

"When you take a look at what has happened, many people are starting to realize how many things we have to be thankful for," said Thompson, Methodist member of the planning committee. "Yes, September 11th was awful. Now we need to think about who we are and what is important."

Interfaith service

The Thanksgiving Eve celebration will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Oakland Mills Meeting House, 5885 Robert Oliver Place in Columbia. Call the Meeting House at 410-730-4090 for directions or details.

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