NEWINGTON - A decades-old Thanksgiving tradition became more vital than ever this week.
The Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Church of Christ Congregational on Main Street brought together members of at least eight different faiths Sunday night. It’s been happening for more than 30 years, according to senior pastor Melanie Enfield.
Catholic hymns intermingled with Hebrew folk songs. There was a reading from the Quran and a benediction in Swahili and Spanish. For a few hours, people shared in their own and each others’ faith traditions.
“It’s standing together in faith, gratitude and Thanksgiving,” Enfield said. “It’s Jewish and Muslim, Christian and Mormon; it’s a wonderful witness of unity, to have everybody come together with hope in witness to the world and our community, especially in these times.”
“These times” came up a lot, referenced by Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett of Temple Sinai at the beginning of the service.
“We really need to come together to support each other,” Bennett said. “These are very trying times.”
In a country torn by political, cultural and socio-economic disparities, all agreed they were thankful for this peaceful gathering of strangers and friends.
“There is a lot of different representation here tonight; it’s wonderful to see you all,” said Father Mike Aparo, president of Interfaith Community Action of Newington (ICAN).
Former mayor Steve Woods and his family are members of Church of Christ Congregational and attended the service. Woods is also on the board of directors for Interfaith Housing Corp., which runs the Southfield Apartments for low-income families.
“I enjoy this,” he said before the program began. “It’s an opportunity to socialize on a different level and get to know people of different cultures and faiths.”
Wearing intricately colored ‘hijab’ head scarves, Islamic Association of Hartford members Aida Mansoor and Enas Ghassal recited verses from the Quran, the religious text of Islam. Ghassal sang the words in Arabic before Mansoor translated them into English. They worship at what is commonly known as the Berlin Mosque.
“In the name of the one god, the most forgiving, the most kind,” Mansoor recited, ending with, “…God almighty spreads the truth.”
She meets monthly with other faith leaders in the area and pointed out, “It’s only when you get to know each other on a human level, you can really develop a greater understanding and respect for each other.”
Pastor Jonathan Westerlund from Our Savior’s Lutheran Church chose a reading from Second Corinthians.
“It focuses on giving thanks to god, which we’re all doing in our own way, in our own traditions,” he explained.
Westerlund invited his church members to the service, a rare opportunity to share openly in other faith traditions.
“As Christians we’re called upon to love our neighbor,” he said. “How can we do that if we don’t know our neighbor?”
Representing the Catholic tradition was Deacon Bruce Thompson from Annunciation Parish, composed of the Holy Spirit and St. Mary Churches. Visiting from Grace Episcopal Church were Senior Warden Joann Cromwell and Deacon CJ Puskarz, who performed the benediction in English.
A particularly moving keynote address came from Kelly Jacobs, representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bloomfield.
“I have great respect for this gathering and what it represents,” she told the crowd, going on to share a personal story.
“There’s no darkness so menacing, so difficult, so dense that it can’t be overcome by light,” Jacobs said. “I think the reasons we are here tonight are light generators…this holiday season is a gift I hope we all accept. Let the good we feel in thanks lead light into our lives.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.