A service for every religion

Followers of many religions in the United States will sit around the Thanksgiving table Thursday, a fact that makes the holiday the perfect time for an interfaith service celebrating the harvest, said Robin Noll, who organized this year's Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration.

Rogue Valley Interfaith Ministries will host the 25th annual service, themed "What Sustains Us?" Thursday at 10 a.m. in First United Methodist's Wesley Hall. Representatives from traditions including Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Native American and New Thought will present songs and dance to share on Thanksgiving morning.

"It isn't specifically a religious holiday but there is some sort of religious overtone to it," said Noll, who practices Hinduism. "Rather than stress the food part of the holiday, we stress that there is a spiritual overtone that doesn't belong to any particular tradition. People gather all over the world celebrate harvests."

The service is held in the morning to leave plenty of time for dinner, and it is an hour of music and dance that helps heal the divide between different faiths, she said.

"We've had really nothing but bad publicity about religion and religions not getting along, and it doesn't seem to matter which ones," she said. "People can come to these events and say 'Oh, they're all different, but they have things in common.'"

The service hearkens back to the first Thanksgiving shared between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, said Rev. Ruth Kirby, a science of mind minister who will present at this year's service.

"The original Thanksgiving was about sitting down with strangers at the table, and very strange strangers," she said.

The sustainability theme further highlights the need to celebrate differences because it requires everyone to work together, she said. The emphasis on spiritual food is also important, she said.

"I see it as a beautiful spiritual feast before the physical food feast," Kirby said. "The timing of the day itself is perfect, that we have our spiritual food first and then we have our physical food."

The service has special meaning to Kirby, who closed the spiritual center she ran for more than three years this summer because there were not enough volunteers to sustain it, she said.

"A variety of people are experiencing that right now," she said, "working out how to create community when people are working so much and being stressed."

Christine Leonard, a sun dancer and pipe carrier for the Lakota Native American tradition, said a celebration of sustainability was needed in light of world events.

"With all the crises that are happening on the planet — financial, environmental, social — if we are able to recognize one another as a valuable piece of the community, though we may be very different from one another, that somehow we would turn to each other and create a community of sustainability."

She will use the Lakota phrase "mitakuye oyasin," which translates to "all my relations," she said.

"What it means is we are all connected and everything, not just human beings — the Earth, the animals, the plant life, the stars — it's all part of a whole."

The service is held every year at First United Methodist Church because the church embraces working ecumenically, said Pastor Ted Stevens.

"It's a wonderful service," he said. "We have a lot in common with our brothers and sisters of others faiths and Thanksgiving is a great time to give thanks for our common ministries."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.

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