A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Last evening the Clergy Association of my local community held our annual Thanksgiving Eve celebration. It’s tradition that goes back over 25 years (no one can recall exactly how long) and well attended by local residents. This year we gathered at a synagogue, with a Presbyterian minister preaching. Our village is home to over two dozen worshipping communities; though fewer than half were represented by their clergy or other leaders, the diversity was extraordinary. The assembly’s participation as a group was limited to a litany that spoke more to our history as a nation than to anything particularly religious, along with the singing of “America” and “Harvest Home” (which I have always interpreted to mean the eschaton, thus not particularly an interfaith hymn, but maybe that’s just me). Rather than try to find prayers and readings that were universal and therefore watered down to the point of meaninglessness, we practiced the Assissi method wherein each tradition’s representative does a reading or prays a prayer from that tradition as the rest of us listen respectfully and participate inwardly as we feel able to do.

As we participated – Jew, Muslim, Baha’i, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Christian Scientist – I thought of so many things: the fragile truce brokered just that morning between Israel and the Palestinians; the persecution suffered by members of the Baha’i faith in parts of the Middle East. I met, for the first time, the new and very young iman recently called to serve the local mosque whose primary membership is composed of Bosnians – a people who know all too well the meanings of the words persecution and genocide. He chanted a portion of the Quran in Arabic – it was haunting and lovely and nasal and so different from the style done in our churches. The rabbi chanted, too, in Hebrew, and two local cantors offered solos or led us in song. I was moved by the testimony of the pastor of one of the Roman Catholic parishes as he thanked the community for helping him shepherd his congregation through the loss of three young men this past summer, students or recent graduates of the local high school, victims of accident and suicide.

Afterward the congregation offered us wonderful hospitality as we greeted neighbors. An elderly gentlemen approached my female deacon and me (still vested in cassock and surplice with those wonderful “Anglican sleeves”), saying that he had always championed the rights of women and he was so glad to see women clergy participating. “Can you please speak with the leadership of the Church of England?” I asked him, and we all smiled.
What strikes me in particular when I attend this service every year is the emphasis society puts on giving thanks “for” – both the necessities of life and the “stuff and fluff” that we want but know that we don’t really need. As people of faith, we don’t just give thanks for; we give thanks to – to the Holy One who is the source of all blessing, all joy, and yes, all diversity. All blessed and meaningful Thanksgiving to all!

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