Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering Celebrates Light And Other Virtues
Newtown Interfaith Council (NIC) presented its annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering on November 20, inviting the public to join them in the sanctuary of Newtown Congregational Church (NCC) that evening.
For one hour, the theme of “Thankful for the Light” was carried through readings and prayers from different faiths. NIC member John Woodall’s reading also introduced an initiative the council is undertaking for at least the next few months.
NCC Senior Pastor Matt Crebbin offered welcome remarks and introduced the event theme.
“You’re going to hear the theme of light be part of our conversation this evening,” he said. He pointed out that ironically, there was a power outage of about four hours for the West Street church and neighborhood earlier that afternoon. That outage knocked the church’s computerized timers off their schedule, which in turn meant a dark front parking lot.
“We apologize for it being dark outside, but the light is here, the light is among us,” Crebbin said.
Al Hedaya Islamic Center member Rehab Alwajh offered the opening prayer, first in Arabic and then translated in English.
Al Hedaya Islamic Center Founder Eman Beshtawii then offered the evening’s first reading, first in Arabic and then translated into English. “Light holds great significance in Islam not only due to the fact that An-Nur, or Light, is one of the names attributed to God but also symbolically, light is often associated with guidance, or hidayah,” she shared in part.
Beshtawii recited the Light Verse Ayat an Nur of the Quran (Chapter 24:Verse 35), which says in part: “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a shining star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. God guides to His light whom He wills. And God presents examples for the people, and God is Knowing of all things.”
Steve Bamberg, a member of Congregation Adath Israel, included a reading from Genesis (Old Testament) 48:15-16. Like Beshtawii, he read in his faith’s language, Paleo-Hebrew, before translating to English.
Bamberg additionally discussed the Hebrew term Hakarat haTov, “which is an expression of gratitude for someone’s good,” despite challenges.
“It’s usually easier to complain about what we are lacking than proclaim what we have,” he explained. “Jacob, at the end of his life, was still able to express gratitude, despite many challenges including being nearly blind.”
Also sharing a prayer was Father Tomasz Przybyl of St Rose Church.
“This is a time of gratitude to God, our Creator and Provider, whose love is with us forever,” he said in part. “Let us acknowledge the many blessings which are ours.”
Bill Donaldson asked attendees to join him in acknowledging and thanking the Pootatuck, Paugussett, Schaghticoke and Wappinger peoples, “who inhabited this area for centuries before our ancestors arrived, living in harmony with the earth, and preserving its beauty and natural resources that we now benefit from.”
An interfaith minister, Donaldson is the founder of Love Has A Home Here, based at Sticks & Stones Farm. Sunday night he also read a prayer written in 1887 by Chief Yellow Lark of the Lakota people, “grounded in reverence for both the earth and the light of Spirit.”
Trinity Episcopal Church Rector Andrea Castner Wyatt followed, saying she “loved hearing scripture of our various world traditions” from fellow faith leaders and representatives before her offering Sunday night, a reading of Wendell Barry’s poem “Wild Geese.”
She encouraged those gathered to look around, “take in what is here … in this time of giving thanks, all we need is here.”
Lutheran Home Chaplain Leo McIlrath offered a short reflection on Eucharist and Thanksgiving, opening with a personal note of thanks.
“I walked out of my house tonight with everything I needed … except my glasses,” he said with a chuckle. A member of the audience immediately stood up to offer theirs, but McIlrath smiled and declined.
“I’ve had 14 different people offer me their glasses since I’ve arrived here tonight, and I am grateful for each of you,” he said.
“Jesus instituted the Eucharist at his final meal,” McIlrath then said. “That provided us a way to express our thanksgiving.
“If we are truly grateful people, we will provide light to those of us around us,” he added. Discussing virtues, he focused on kindness, “and the great and small acts of kindness we have seen over and over in our beautiful town of Newtown. May we continue that.”
John Woodall was next. He opened by saying he was “so grateful to be here, to be with everyone.”
Among the readings from the Baha’i faith, Woodall offered: “The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun … The glory and the upliftment of the world must needs depend upon it” (Baha’u’llah).
“Thanksgiving wells up naturally when one realizes all that is good,” he also said. “Gratitude is what opens up the channels, when all that is good within us manifests.”
Woodall then explained that note cards that accompanied the evening’s order of service were meant for attendees to select and write down a virtue they would try to focus on. The NIC was calling these, he said, “Light Gratitudes.”
The front of the cards featured an illustration of a candle, and a quote on the reverse from faiths being represented that evening. The quotes varied, but were all related to light.
“We want to shed light on division and anger,” he said. “The NIC has been talking for a long time on how we might orient ourselves. We feel with everything we’ve been through we have to consciously manifest, and focus on light of virtue, and bring into circles where we have influence in town — families, businesses, maybe schools and others.
“We’d like you to pick a virtue, and write it down, and focus on it, just for a few seconds,” he continued.
He offered a few suggestions: the way people communicate with each other, “which has become so degraded in recent years”; doing all deeds in kindness; and never allowing oneself to speak unkindly, even if the other person is an enemy.
Similar cards will be shared, Woodall said, throughout the community in upcoming months, “where appropriate, to set these thoughts in mind, and to begin better dialogue and nurture relationships.”
When Woodall concluded, guests were invited to carry forward their donations to FAITH Food Pantry. Nonperishables and financial offerings were carried to the front of the sanctuary, with bags placed on the floor and cash and checks placed in either of two baskets on low pedestals.
Guests were also invited to contemplate the virtues suggested by Woodall. If they wished to, they were invited to put their thoughts into writing and put those note cards into the baskets as well.
Newtown United Methodist Church Pastor Lori Miller shared with The Newtown Bee after the gathering that she finds it “always meaningful to participate in these services.”
Her blessing on Sunday opened with an adapted daily meditation from Father Richard Rohr’s A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations.
“Life is a gift, totally given to us without cost, every day of it and every part of it,” Miller read in part. “A daily and chosen attitude of gratitude will keep our hands open to expect that life, allow that life and receive that life at ever deeper levels of satisfaction, but never to think we deserve it.”
She followed her reading with a prayer:
“As we go from this place tonight into this particular week and really into every week, may we have this gratitude and humility deep within.
“On behalf of your clergy and the congregations we represent, I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving.”
Jim Allen stepped in for the ailing Newtown Congregational Church Organist Phil Crevier on Sunday. Allen performed on the church’s piano, playing Gathering Music, and hymn “Simple Gifts,” and the song “This Little Light of Mine” during the gathering. His Postlude gently merged into “Across the Universe” before fading to its conclusion.
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