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Giving thanks, being grateful for what one has, and feeling blessed to be able to join with others of differing faiths were all among the ideas celebrated Sunday during this year’s Interfaith Service of Thanksgiving.
Nearly 100 people joined together for the annual event, hosted this season by Trinity Episcopal Church. An annual event by Newtown Interfaith Council, members of Trinity were joined by faith leaders from Al Hedaya Islamic Center, The Lutheran Home of Southbury, Newtown Congregational Church, Newtown United Methodist Church, St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, and Rabbi Shaul Praver to present the service.
An unofficial count by one of the evening’s ushers noted 86 people gathered in the pews for the event. Another 12-15 people participated by singing with the interfaith choir, directed this year by Don Wisman, Trinity’s director of music ministry.
The Reverend Dr Jenny Montgomery, priest-in-charge at Trinity, opened the service at 5 pm.
“Welcome to this special time of gathering in our community. It is a joy for us to be the host site for this service,” she said. “We are delighted to be hosting this service, which I understand alternates its location each year.”
Rev Montgomery and her husband arrived in Newtown in March. Having moved to New England from Arlington, Va., they are looking forward to their first Thanksgiving in Newtown, a town they have fallen in love with, she shared later.
“I love this community,” she said. “I love that we can gather together like this. There are towns where this sharing of faiths is not done. I feel very blessed and grateful to be here.”
During her welcoming remarks, Rev Montgomery mentioned that everyone would have an opportunity to participate in the late afternoon service, if they wished.
“When we began planning for this service, all we kept talking about was food,” she said of meeting with other members of the interfaith group.
“I want all voices to be heard, all ages to be heard,” she said.
Attendees ranged in age, with a few families arriving in large groups. Children sat with their parents and grandparents; couples, friends, and individuals also enjoyed the gathering.
“We are coming together to give thanks for all that we have,” Rev Montgomery said before turning the service over to Muadh Bhavnagarwala. The young man was one of a group of people representing Al Hedaya Islamic Center on Sunday. Mr Bhavnagarwala offered the call to worship, an honor he has held for the past few years.
The hourlong interfaith event does not offer a formal sermon, but invites representatives from Newtown’s faith communities to share readings and prayers, with musical interludes. Hebrew and Christian Scripture readings were shared on Sunday, as was a Quranic reading, the singing of “Come ye thankful people come,” and then the reading, in English and Hebrew, of the Psalm of Thanksgiving.
Rev Montgomery then invited the Reverend Matthew Crebbin, senior pastor of Newtown Congregational Church; Rabbi Shaul Praver, former faith leader of Congregation Adath Israel; and Haddam Kadhim, representing Al Hedaya Islamic Center, to join her in the chancel. The four sat in folding chairs, and shared stories of what will happen at their Thanksgiving table on Thursday, and customs that their family will observe.
Rev Crebbin recalled mince pies made by his grandmother, and visiting the home of a childhood friend, a Filipino whose family served very different foods for their Thanksgiving gathering.
“It was a real blending of cultural traditions,” he said.
Rabbi Praver reminded those gathered that everyone needs to awaken to gratitude.
“We have to cultivate an attitude of gratitude,” he said.
Mr Kadhim drew a laugh when he said that not only does the Muslim faith not call “for a specific day reserved to give thanks,” but that he grew up in Canada.
“I did not grow up with Thanksgiving,” he said. “This is a very American holiday.”
Nevertheless, in the four years since arriving in the United States, he and others have observed Thanksgiving, he said. Reading from Chapter 75 of the Quran, he then shared what he and his family, and others who follow Islam, believe: “We were nothing, and then we became something, and for that we must be thankful.
“Thankfulness is at the very core of our traditions,” he said. This week, he said, he and his family and friends will gather “to be grateful for all the blessings that we have.”
As he spoke, two of his children made their way along the edge of the sanctuary, quietly approaching the group. When their father handed off the microphone that was being shared by the four in the chancel, the children ran to their father and crawled onto his lap.
“True blessings,” Rev Crebbin said, looking toward the boys and smiling.
Rev Montgomery then shared that this year will be the first for her family without her father, who died in February.
“Cornbread dressing is one of our customs,” she said. “It’s a very Southern dish. It’s not stuffing, and you have to be careful to find the right balance between being too dry and too moist.
“My father had a wonderful recipe,” she added, smiling. “My sister will be making that this year, and our father will be living on through that.”
Walking down the center aisle, she then invited guests to share which dish they were looking forward to. Answers ranged from Indian pudding and Arabic food to sweet potato pie and Pakistani turkey.
In place of a monetary offering, attendees had been asked to bring with them donations for FAITH Food Pantry. The Interfaith Service of Thanksgiving has, since its renewal in 2011, done collections for the food pantry.
“Let us remember those who will also be celebrating on Thursday,” Rev Montgomery said, inviting those with offerings to put them in baskets in front of the pews. While the collection was amassed, the choir sang “In the Lord, I’ll ever be thankful.”
Seven young adults then joined Trinity Curate Carrie Combs, assembling in front of the altar to lead the Litany of Thanksgiving. Father Alphonse Arokiam, a parochial vicar at St Rose Church, offered the blessing and benediction. Most of the youth in attendance then headed down to the church’s undercroft for a potluck dinner with their families.
Others began bundling up to head back out into the dark, windy night. Gentle words of encouragement and a reminder to give thanks for God’s exuberant blessings went with them.