Newtown’s clergy gathered, along with two choirs and nearly 200 residents, for a Newtown Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering at Trinity Church on Sunday evening. The November 24 program featured readings by young adults, as well as short essays by other young adults on what they are thankful for this holiday season.
A children’s choir performed “Simple Gifts” and “Rejoice and Be Glad,” which charmed those in attendance at the historic Main Street church. They were followed by the adult choir, who sang “We Are Marching in The Light of God.”
The evening, said co-organizer Margo Deselin Woodall, was meant to focus on the hope and promise of youth.
The 60-minute service also included blessings by eight leaders of faith, and closed with the adult choir singing Rutter’s “For The Beauty of The Earth.”
Although he did not participate in the service itself, Christ the King Lutheran Church Pastor Rob Morris was also at Trinity on Sunday, accompanied by Maggie, a comfort dog recently adopted by the town’s Lutheran church. Pastor Morris and his canine companion sat in the rear of the nave, just in from the narthex, greeting many as they arrived.
Pastor Kathie Adams-Shepherd, rector of Trinity, offered welcoming remarks, putting an emphasis on the word warmth as she did so. Her reference to the bitter wind and cold outside drew a chuckle from many in attendance.
“We are here tonight to share blessings and thanksgivings on our lives,” she said. “Through music, word, and shared stories, particularly from our youth, we look to find hope and blessedness and a reason to continue to find thanksgiving.”
Kelsea Morshuk-Allen, Emily Crebbin, Faaria Ansari and Abdul Rasheed, and Aliya Moudud each did readings on Sunday. The young adults offered readings from the Psalms, Christian tradition, Islamic tradition, and Baha’i traditions, respectively. The readings suggested giving thanks, showing compassion, showing forgiveness, and doing, as Miss Rasheed said, “commendable deeds.”
In place of a sermon, local youth had been invited to prepare statements sharing what they are thankful for. Seven readers took their turn standing in front of those gathered, sharing their personal writings. One young man, a member of The Newtown PeaceBuilders, thanked his parents for encouraging him to keep dreaming. Another member of PeaceBuilders, a program for 11–14-year-olds that designs and implements resilience building, said her parents have taught her and her brother the importance of sharing with others.
“I have learned,” she said, “we should never take anything for granted. We should give but not take back. And we should always share with others.”
Others spoke of their experiences with religious youth groups, of workcamp opportunities, and of being involved with Ben’s Lighthouse from its inception.
One young man said he could not come up with any one thing to be thankful for.
“I am thankful for so many things,” he quickly clarified. “I am thankful for my friends, who accept my quirkiness; for my teachers, and their patience; for my bus driver, who waits for me even when I have to run to catch up; for music, and all that it brings to my life; for John and Margo Woodall, for creating PeaceBuilders and the lessons they have already shared.
“I am thankful to live in Newtown,” he continued. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I am thankful for my parents. And I am thankful for each of you here today.”
Each sharing moment was followed by applause from those gathered. It was not the perfunctory applause that seems to follow many readings or speakers at large gatherings. It seemed instead to be an acknowledgement of the strength it took for the young adults to open up and share what was in their hearts, a thanks from those listening for their honesty.
Pastor Adams-Shepherd offered thanks for the children, adults, and music directors sharing their talents, and to those who organized the evening.
“I also give my thanks to this community,” she said. Echoing the thoughts of one of the earlier speakers, she continued: “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else either.”
Local leaders of faith then lined the edge of the nave, each holding a lit candle. Beginning with the Reverend Matt Crebbin, each took a turn sharing a prayer, and then lit the candle of a person sitting near them.
“The candle is lit, and casts double on the power of darkness,” Rev Crebbin said in part.
As each faith leader continued the prayer, candles were lit across the pews, until the candlelight reached across the rows, from front to back of the room. Also participating in the Faith Leader Blessing were the Reverend Janice Touloukian, recently retired from Newtown Congregational Church; Pastor Mel Kawakami, Newtown United Methodist Church; Reverend Jack Tanner, Newtown Christian Church; Monsignor Robert Weiss, St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church; Margo Deselin Woodall and John Woodall, Baha’i Community; and Eman Beshtawii of Al Hedaya Islamic Center.