‘A Unique Offering,’ Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering Celebrated
Leaders from several of Newtown’s houses of worship and faith groups led the 2019 Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering on November 24, which opened with a little bit of humor from its host.
“Thank you for joining us today,” said Rabbi Barukh Schectman of Congregation Adath Israel. “We are glad you were able to find us out here in the woods.”
Rabbi Schectman held up four plants during his welcoming remarks, explaining the significance of the citrus, lulav (palm frond), hadas (leaves from myrtle tree), and aravah (willow leaves). Jews tie together the leaves or branches and wave them, while holding the citrus fruit, and wish each other “Hosanna” or “Alleluia.”
In place of a formal sermon or Eucharist, the gathering instead offered a brief informal conversation among four people Sunday afternoon.
The Reverend Leo McIlrath introduced the Thanksgiving Reflections segment, reminding those in attendance that “the Scriptures are filled with examples of hospitality, unity, and community.”
Joining Rev McIlrath for the discussion were Eman Beshtawii, founder and director of Al Hedaya Islamic Center; Rabbi Schectman, and John Woodall, from B’hai Faith of Newtown.
In reflecting on what hospitality and faith look like in their faith traditions, Ms Beshtawii noted that all people follow “the same stories, the same values.”
Reflecting on the story of Abraham, who offered kindness to strangers, “despite the fact of unknowns and dangers,” Ms Beshtawii said, “we often think the worst when strangers are encountered.
“After meeting people, we are often left feeling blessed, though,” she said. “It is time for us to be more open and honest with each other.”
The strangers helped by Abraham, she pointed out, turned out to be angels.
Rabbi Schectman spoke next, saying Jewish law has multiple degrees of charity. He encouraged those in the pews to allow people their dignity as much as possible.
“Allow them to work when they can,” he said. Everyone can do good by helping others, as well as themselves, he added.
Also recalling the story of Abraham, the rabbi reminded the afternoon’s guests that “Abraham had a tent with openings on all four sides, so that he could see anyone who needed help as they approached.”
John Woodall said the idea of an interfaith gathering “is such a unique offering in this town.”
Recalling the words of Robert F. Kennedy hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, Mr Woodall said that while Newtown has made great steps toward peace and healing and kindness, “our work is not done.
“Newtown still has work,” he said, “but us being together, in this room, from other backgrounds, is the heart of Newtown. You are the ones that are making gentle the lives of this earth.
“I couldn’t be more grateful,” he continued, “to draw breath in this town.”
Earlier in the celebration, Mr Woodall had also expressed his appreciation for the annual event.
“I can’t think of anything more important for all of us to be doing together,” he said. “I am profoundly grateful for this gathering, and think God must be so happy to see so many of us gathering together.”
Also participating in the interfaith event on Sunday were the Reverend Matt Crebbin of Newtown Congregational Church, Sameer Atique from Al Hedaya Islamic Center, who led the Gathering and Call to Prayer; The Reverend Dr Jenny Montgomery, Trinity Episcopal Church, who joined Mr Woodall in leading Prayers of Thanksgiving; Reverend Matthew Babcock (Trinity), Reverend Jack Tanner (Newtown Christian Church) and Reverend Andy Vill (St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church), who each offered Thanksgiving texts; and Reverend Kristen Provost Switzer, also from Newtown Congregational, who offered a prayer ahead of the offering.
Musician Jim Allyn was invited to provide music for this year’s service, and chose the mandolin for the afternoon’s event. The gentle plucking on the instrument welcomed the afternoon’s guests as they gathered in the sanctuary, and then guided all through a pair of songs during the service. Mr Allyn also offered a postlude following Rabbi Schectman’s closing words.
Young adults from Newtown Congregational Church who are going through their Confirmation process this year were tasked with collecting the afternoon’s offering. Guests were invited to share donations for FAITH Food Pantry, the nondenominational food pantry that has served residents for over three decades.