As part of Thanksgiving celebrations, several congregations and clergy from the United Church of Christ are reaching out to other faiths, from corners in the Midwest to the shores in Florida, gathering together to give thanks for their blessings.
The Rev. RaeAnn Beebe, pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisc., says that because being grateful is shared among a variety of religious faiths, her congregation will take part in the Interfaith Festival of Gratitude. Beebe and another Oshkosh pastor are the hosts for the event, which starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 21 at the Grand Opera House. The event is free to the public, and is followed with a social hour with refreshments at First Congregational Church.
“We felt that gratitude and Thanksgiving is not just a Christian event. All faiths are grateful for the things they have,” Beebe said. “This is a national holiday to express that gratitude.”
Now in its third year, the Festival of Gratitude started in 2010 with an idea from an area clergy member “who’s tried to get local clergy and different faith communities together started contacting different faith groups,” Beebe said.
Representatives and members from as many as 10 faiths (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Eckankar, Baha’i, Unitarian Universalist, Hindu) will share their meaning of gratitude. Each group invited to present their meaning of Thanksgiving can select a passage from their scriptures or historical tradition, a song or dance that expresses their gratitude through their faith. The groups can also worship in English or the language of their religious history.
“The number of people coming to this event has grown, so in that sense it’s wonderful to celebrate together,” Beebe said. “There are churches without people on the stage that still go.”
UCC President and General Minister the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, will participate in a service Tuesday afternoon Nov. 20 at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Cleveland. The event brings together Abrahamic faiths from Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominations.
In Miami, the Rev. Laurinda Hafner, senior pastor of Coral Gables Congregational UCC, is hosting a similar worship service in a spirit of unity at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve. "We invite everyone -- no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey -- to a Spirit-filled service that celebrates with words and music the connections found through the awesome diversity, work and fellowship of our community,” Hafner said.