If the holiday season is about giving thanks, Ashland residents are off to a fast start.
More than 100 community members, young and old, filed into the First United Methodist Church Thursday morning, to give thanks for their peers and acknowledge the common ground among members of different faiths.
They marked the 26th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, sponsored by the Rogue Valley Interfaith Ministries. Jewish worshipers, Quakers, Buddhists and more were at the Methodist church to celebrate what makes their faith unique, but also to celebrate what that faith has in common with others.
"You couldn't ask for more from the community," said Gene Burnett, who performed his song "Flow More, Force Less," in representing the Taoist faith. "I've been doing this for three or four years. It's one of my favorite venues to perform."
This year's interfaith theme was "Honoring Oneness in Diversity." The mood was alternately joyous and solemn, as guests started the morning by formally greeting one another, before lighting prayer candles to honor all the faiths that were represented.
The Interfaith Service has been held each year since 1983. Organizers call the service a chance for community members to come together under the positive values that unite people of all faiths.
"This is an amazing event," said David Gabriel, who, along with Laura Derocher, co-hosted this year's event. "For me, having everyone in the same room, honoring and respecting each other, it feels like the way the world should work."
The morning continued, with musical guests playing songs representing different religious cultures around the world, including Sufism, Shamanism, Catholicism and New Thought metaphysical belief. People in the crowd also had an opportunity to share what they were thankful for.
Derocher called each performer a worthy spokesperson for their belief. The whole event, Derocher, said, was about positive reinforcement for the many different people in Ashland and beyond.
"I've been starting my Thanksgiving this way for five years now," she said. "Each year I come to this place with even more gratitude for the community. That's what it's all about."
Many were attending the Thanksgiving Interfaith Gathering for the first time. Helen McLeod of Ashland said she came down to the church to be part of a communitywide movement, and to honor everyone for their differences.
"It's interesting to see so many different groups under one roof," McLeod said. "I think it's great that they do this."
Graham Lewis with First United Methodist Church called the event "an opportunity for the people of many faiths throughout Ashland to gather, and express gratitude in whatever way they choose."
Residents like Sylvia Mabry left in the early afternoon feeling rejuvenated, and thankful.
"I thought it was wonderful," Mabry said, "just a great opportunity for everyone to get together and share their experiences. It felt good to see so many friends."
Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.