A Thanksgiving Message from an Interfaith Service at Saint Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac

Written by

November 21, 2018

I love Thanksgiving as it marks the beginning of the holiday season.  It also reminds me of all the important relationships I have in my life.  It’s a “home coming” kind of holiday and one of kindness, where many of us look out for those who don’t have too many social ties, who yearn to feel “belonged, and invite them to join our feast.

It’s interesting to learn the history and meaning of Thanksgiving, how the Indians helped the remaining Pilgrims of the Mayflower survive the bitter winter of 1620.  In 1621, these Pilgrims and natives together celebrated the English harvest festival which lasted three days as an act of gratitude for their bounty harvest.  The next Thanksgiving celebration did not take place until 1676 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.  The Indians were not included in this dinner, as in that area, they had been at war with the colonists and had been defeated.  Thanksgiving was recognized by Congress in 1941 as a legal holiday.

We should have a Thanksgiving moment every day.  Like the Bhutanese who daily, for a minute or two, cease all activities to think of death in order to live their life more fully, we should pause each day to observe and feel grateful for the “larger” things in life that we tend to take for granted.  We should be grateful for those who suffer, for their suffering reminds us of our fortune.

This evening, my husband and I joined a diverse group of people at St Francis Episcopal Church near our home for an Interfaith Thanksgiving service.   The service was organized by many religious leaders in our area after the shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg.  The shooting has shaken many of us who believe America is a beautiful quilt, the fabric being made up of people from all cultures and walks of life.  America today should be celebrated as life was by the unity of colonists and native Americans  (as was done on that very first Thanksgiving) and not simply by some group of “winners,” for the wisdom of the ancient times has shown us so often how winners today might well be losers the day after.  

The Interfaith service was  beautiful and moving.  There were readings from local leaders of The Baha’i Faith, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Islamic Community Center of Potomac, Congregation Har Shalom, and leaders of the nearby Episcopal, Catholic and Presbyterian churches.  We heard beautiful songs from the Children’s Choir of St Francis International school (introduced movingly by a local Rabbi who shared how these children and their leader had met with him after the horror in Pittsburg and given him solace and faith that he was not alone), and by the collective Interfaith Children’s Choir.  It was a stunning sight of beautiful children from different ethnic groups standing side by side singing songs of gratitude.

 I am grateful for living in such a diverse area where people respect each other’s cultures, traditions and religions.  Readings from these leaders reminded me how much religions are alike in their deep teachings, how much alike humans from different races are, if they bother to take down the thin veil between them.  When we reach this understanding, we will no longer fear “caravans” of humans in destitute situations and recognize how, like all of us, people from all walks of the world have the same yearnings for their families, to have a peaceful and prosperous life, to worship their God freely, to have the meanings of their life be respected wherever they are.  

Instead, we should fear and oppose those who live without humanity.  We should fear and oppose those who try to divide and sow the seeds of hatred.  We should chose light over darkness, kindness over selfishness.  We should seek universal truths, for truth will lead us back to the path of civility and humanity.   

Unlike the colonists who conquered and, once obtaining their bounty, destroyed excluded their native brothers and sisters, we should live in gratitude for all our neighbors, as reminded by the Bishop of the Bethesda Ward, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints:

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment .

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 

There is none other commandment greater than these

                                 Saint Mark 12;30 & 31