Interfaith Council Solidifies Plans For Thanksgiving, Looks To December And Beyond
Newtown Interfaith Council (NIC) members are planning an interfaith Thanksgiving service and are hoping this month’s event will be the first of an ongoing effort to provide fellowship and light into the New Year.
NIC conducted its latest meeting on November 10, convening in the library of Trinity Episcopal Church.
The opening minutes were spent with Matt Crebbin and John Woodall presenting to Andrea Castner Wyatt the order of worship for this year’s Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering.
Eman Beshtawii and Reverend Leo McIlrath also attended the meeting, arriving about 15 minutes into the discussion.
Crebbin, the senior pastor of Newtown Congregational Church, and Baha’i Faith representative Woodall met the previous week with Bill Donaldson, founder of Love Has A Home Here, for the purpose of crafting the Thanksgiving event.
The gathering is planned for Sunday, November 20, at 7 pm, at Newtown Congregational Church, 14 West Street. All are welcome.
This year’s theme will be “Thankful for the Light.”
It will be like previous Thanksgiving gatherings, with members of the interfaith council participating. They will be encouraged, Crebbin said last week, to offer texts, prayers, or readings trending toward light.
Attendees will again be invited to make donations to FAITH Food Pantry that night. Nonperishable food and financial donations will be collected during the offering.
There will also be time for guests to share what they are grateful for this season.
‘Simple And Lovely’
After looking at the draft order of service last Thursday afternoon, Castner Wyatt smiled and said “This is lovely. Simple and lovely.”
The discussion the previous week, Crebbin said, started with Thanksgiving, “and then moved forward into December and the interfaith gathering around Sandy Hook and also into the new year.
“It feels like there’s a lot of folks feeling the darkness, the shadows,” he continued. “So rather than being anti-darkness, why don’t we be pro-light, and celebrate light and the different aspects and the way in which there is light in our lives, through our faith lives, through our interpersonal lives, through what we can be as a community. We can raise these up and they can be light bearers for us.”
That idea, he said, recalled Donaldson’s idea when founding Love Has A Home Here. When he attended his first NIC meeting one year ago, Donaldson explained that the mission of his interfaith/interspiritual organization took the idea of yard signs he was seeing and flipped the message.
“I am working hard to get a positive message out. Instead of being anti-hate, I’m being pro-love. Instead of being against something, I am being for something,” Donaldson told the council in November 2021.
Donaldson was unable to attend the November 10 NIC meeting.
Last week, Crebbin and Woodall said their talk with Donaldson led to the decision to invite attendees of this weekend’s interfaith Thanksgiving gathering to reflect on the aspects of their lives — “whether people, or communities, or things that they experience or do, or practices, whatever it might be,” Crebbin said — where they experience light.
Note cards will be provided to guests on Sunday, when they will be encouraged to put into writing what the NIC members are calling Light Gratitudes, indicating what they are grateful for this season. While music is performed, all will then be invited to put those notes into a basket as well as any donations they have for the food pantry.
There will also be time for guests to verbally share, in just a few words, Light Gratitudes.
“It’s a little bit like what everyone does at the Thanksgiving table, talking about what you’re grateful for,” Crebbin said.
“It would build community more if we invite people to share some thoughts,” Castner Wyatt said.
The Seed For Future Events
Woodall told Castner that this weekend’s Thanksgiving service will be the first of a few events he and other NIC members would like to carry into the new year.
“This notion is that the Thanksgiving service will be a seed for a tree that grows through at least the first day of spring,” he said. “It’s kind of capturing the season more than just these singular events of the Thanksgiving and the memorial service.”
Castner Wyatt smiled again.
“It helps us frame the 12/14 service in a positive way,” she said. “I love that.”
“Yes,” Woodall replied. “That becomes sort of the send-off to the 12/14 service.”
Crebbin further explained, saying the planning is to then have gatherings presented by NIC, “and we’re also talking about how we might reach out to other groups.”
He and the others, Crebbin said, would like to work with nonprofit organizations and other groups in town, “and obviously our own faith communities, to find creative ways to continue this out into the springtime, at least to the Vernal Equinox.”
Woodall agreed, adding that he and others hope the next few months of offerings through the council become “more than just events, but trying to imbue the community, and uplift people.”
December Service Plans
The 12/14 service of remembrance, Crebbin said, will this year incorporate virtues such as kindness, patience, and generosity, among others. The community gathering on the anniversary of 12/14 will again be presented at Trinity Episcopal Church.
As part of the gathering, paper stars will be either passed out or available to select from baskets, according to Crebbin. Some of the stars will have virtues written on them, while other stars will be left blank.
“The idea is, people can either intentionally select one of the stars with something on it, pick one at random, or pick a blank star and write a virtue on it,” he said. “You take that with you and you place it somewhere where you see it, hopefully every day, as a reminder of ‘This is what I want to be more intentional about in my own life.’
“These are all practices,” he continued, “that anyone can work on. The outreach doesn’t have to be overtly religious.”
The paper stars, Crebbin and Woodall said, will carry beyond December 14. They would like to see them shared with groups around town, whose members can continue thinking about moral principles outside their religious connotations, they said.
“I love the idea of connecting with other groups,” Castner Wyatt said. “I love that idea.”
Castner Wyatt also said she was pleased that when First Selectman Dan Rosenthal joined the council for its October meeting, he voiced similar concerns of NIC members.
“Dan named some of the same things we worry about — feeling division, lack of community, lack of participation,” she said. “I just thought he named the same kind of things we’ve been naming.”
The council will meet after Thanksgiving to finalize its plans for Wednesday, December 14.
Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.