Interfaith services, LGBTQ+ ‘Friendsgiving,’ shared meals held across UCC to observe Thanksgiving

Many United Church of Christ congregations across the country participated in interfaith services, “Friendsgivings,” and traditional Thanksgiving meals to celebrate the annual November holiday.

The First Congregational Church of Verona, N.J., took part in an interfaith Thanksgiving observance on Nov. 19. This included participation from Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Islamic and Jewish faith communities.

A speaker from the local Islamic Center took part in the interfaith service held Nov. 19 in Verona, N.J.

The theme was “The Gift of Our Hands” and focused on the work these interfaith partners do for each other in the community.

“This month, the clergy of Verona looked across the table, one to another,” said First Congregational’s outreach pastor, Jacob Baccus. “We peered into our differences. We beheld our similarities. With clear minds and open hearts, three faith traditions dedicated themselves to the bringing together of community, through a joint interfaith service.

“Our knowing brought us together; our hands will carry us forward. Our interested hands upend indifference. Our concerned hands lift one another. Our thankful hands bind and remind us that we are community, and that we will work together to improve our world that is always in flux.”

‘Jesus feeds everyone’

An LGBTIQ+ “Friendsgiving” meal was held at the First Congregational UCC in Grand Junction, Colo. on Nov. 19. They celebrated with a traditional turkey dinner with all the sides in a safe space. Pronouns were respected, and all people were welcome no matter how they identified.

Pastor Paul Ashby said there was no doubt they would host this event.

“It fits with our ethic of sharing and welcoming,” he said. “It’s who we are. We have hosted many LGBTQ+ groups over the years, and this was simply natural. Jesus feeds everyone.”

Al Eaton and Jesse Abate carve turkey for the meal at Pilgrim Congregational in Harwich Port, Mass.

Meanwhile, at Pilgrim Congregational Church of Harwich Port, Mass., an annual Thanksgiving meal was also shared on Nov. 19. About 60 people were signed up and enjoyed fare prepared mainly by church members Al Eaton and Jesse Abate. Some 50 people were served in person, while others had their meals hand-delivered. Those who wanted to took home leftover turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, roasted butternut squash, rolls, pumpkin and cranberry bread, and of course gravy and cranberry sauce in to-go containers provided. Many brought desserts to share, and a few sides that were passed table to table.

Congregants enjoyed their meal at Pilgrim Congregational in Harwich Port, Mass.

76 years of interfaith gatherings

In Oklahoma, a group gathered to share in the 76th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City. The event started with a partnership between Pilgrim Congregational Church, now called Mayflower UCC, Temple B’nai Israel and First Unitarian.

“The interfaith service is the embodiment of UCC values,” said Mayflower’s pastor, the Rev. Lori Walke. “We show extravagant welcome, and this long standing tradition is just another opportunity for us to live our values.”

The Rev. Diana Davies with the First Unitarian Church said this was a very special year. “One of the things we’ve done is to make sure there is indigenous representation at our service, because of the area we are located. And this year our keynote speaker was Shoshanna Wasserman, deputy director of the First Americans Museum, who is Jewish as well as from an Indigenous background. She was truly the embodiment of what we represent here.”

Rabbi Vered Harris and Imam Imad S. Enchassi take a selfie together along with Father Tim Luschen during the interfaith service in Oklahoma City. Hindu representative  
Krishna Vedala is seated in the same pew.

Davies shared an especially moving moment.

“The Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Israel, was doing a responsorial reading, and she invited the Imam Imad S. Enchassi from local mosque to join her,” she recounted. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”


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