Planning an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in Your Community
In a world that seems much smaller and much more interdependent than we knew before September 11, 2001, the opportunity to share gratitude and pain in various ways is critical. Many congregations and leaders are aware in new ways of other religions and of people of other faiths — particularly the Islamic faith — in their midst. As a matter of Gods shalom and justice, pastors and people have reached out to stand in solidarity with people of faith who were suddenly demonized and the objects of violence and abuse.
For some time Christians and Jews have found ways to share together in celebrating our national day of thanksgiving. Now, communities are considering a wider circle that includes Muslims and perhaps people in other religious communities in the city or town.
Here are some guidelines that you and other leaders may find helpful in planning an interfaith Thanksgiving service.
- Identify the faith communities you hope will be part of such a service.
- Be clear in your own mind to what degree you and your congregation are willing to participate in really stretching your language and prayers and to what degree you can welcome the use of sacred writings outside of the Jewish and Christian canonical books.
- Initiate dialogue with interfaith partners to determine their interest in a shared Thanksgiving service (note the original sharing of food commemorated in our national image of thanksgiving was an interfaith experience). Avoid the problems of planning something and then inviting one or more other faith communities to participate.
- Talk about the meaning and experience of "giving thanks" within your various faith communities and bring to the table expressions of thanksgiving (sacred writings and texts, songs, customs, and practices). Enjoy the process of learning and experiencing ritual practices and prayers of each other's religion.
- Consider together what a shared gathering for prayer and thanksgiving might look like. Invite the different religious leaders (rabbis, priests, mullahs, pastors, monks) to say what they think would work well in an interfaith gathering to observe a national day of thanksgiving.
- Put the service together. Agree on the place for this year — with the expectation of rotating to other locations in future years so that it is clear that other places will take their turn hosting the service of worship. Agree on musical leaders and the printing of the service texts. Be sure to observe copyright and permission to reprint requirements. List the participating leaders and their congregations' names. Determine how the various leaders will incorporate their distinctive garb, if any, when leading worship. Determine if there is some common concern that an offering of commitments or gifts of money could be included in the service.
- Use the terms "ecumenical" and "interfaith" accurately. If the service is to be a shared experience of Christians, then call it an ecumenical Thanksgiving service. However, if the service is to include various faith groups, one or more of which are not Christian, then call it an interfaith Thanksgiving service.
- Plan to share food and drink and informal conversation before or after the service so that people have the opportunity to get to know one another.
Most of the above suggestions are simply courtesy and a showing of respect for one another across our faith traditions.
For additional guidance contact the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns(475 Riverside Drive, Room 1300, New York, NY 10115; Phone: 212-749-3553; E-Mail: [email protected]) and request "Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue" and "Basic Facts About Islam."
Daniel T. Benedict, Jr., previously served as the director of worship resources for the Discipleship Ministries. He retired in August 2005.
Copyright© 2001 The United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, P. O. Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003; telephone: 615-340-7073; Center for Worship Resourcing Web Site http://www.umcworship.org. Permission is granted to use, photocopy, and adapt this article for local church or interfaith use with the inclusion of this copyright notice.