Members of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC) representing a dozen religious faith traditions, congregated on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at the First United Methodist Church of Chicago for an interfaith prayer service and celebration of spiritual gratitude. The theme of this year’s Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Observance was “Unity, Hope, and Peace,” and reflected the communal solidarity that CRLMC works towards develop among different religious congregations around Chicago and its suburbs.
Nearly 100 locals turned out to attend the service, featuring a procession of hymns offered by religious leaders in many languages accompanied by English translations. There was a Native American prayer that opened the service accompanied by melodic flute playing, followed by prayers and supplications from the Baha’i faith, Anglican and Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, a Zoroastrian recitation, a Jain devotional song, a Buddhist prayer, and a dua from CIOGC’s Treasurer, Tasneem Osmani. The common theme presented by these prayers was a celebration of the blessings imparted on humanity from the divine, and a recognition of our community’s particular blessings, articulated in the spirit of common devotion.
Bishop Wayne Miller, the President of CRLMC, said that in these tense times, it is important that we struggle against “a rise in violence related to misunderstanding” and claimed that although the CRLMC “is not unique, it is unusual in that it engages in interfaith prayer services for Thanksgiving.”
“It’s about sending the message that our religious leadership is here for everyone,” said Tasneem Osmani. “If there is anything you need from us, you can call upon us.” Osmani noted that now more than any time since 9/11, it was important to develop interfaith solidarity. “These events are great reminders that Chicago’s religious communities are ready to help the Muslims and stand behind them.”
This gratitude took on a renewed significance in light of the Thanksgiving holiday. Mobedyar Boman Damkevala of the Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Chicago noted that these interfaith opportunities are special in ways that many others may take for granted. “Back in western India, most Zoroastrians remain very secluded, they do not intermarry and have limited contact with other faiths. Maybe it was a matter of survival, I don’t know. But in America we have so many opportunities to interact with other religions.”
Despite its name, this Thanksgiving sermon transcended the particularities of any singular holiday – perhaps that is what its original spirit entailed. The “First Thanksgiving” as it exists in the popular imagination was essentially the original interfaith dinner, a gathering between puritans and natives to celebrate a successful harvest. “The first Thanksgiving isn’t really what you think, the things they teach you in school is hardly the true story” said William Buckholtz Allison, a Native American flutist. “We should all know our roots, because once you learn where you come from, you realize that we are all ultimately part of one family tree. That is why I come to this event, because it is promoting a positive
message.” When asked about what Thanksgiving meant to him, Allison said “I think it’s ironic, because it all begins with harvest festival, with a celebration of what the earth has given to us. We seem to have forgotten that, especially if you take a look at the struggles at Standing Rock,” a reference to the recent protests against a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that will connect the Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. According to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST), that pipeline will go through their drinking water, sacred sites, and traditional lands.
Regardless of what Thanksgiving really was or what we have imagined it to be, there is no doubt that what transpired at First United Methodist Church of Chicago was a truly inclusive celebration of thanks among members of different backgrounds and religions, brought together on this continent in the hope of a better tomorrow. Through events like this one, one can see that the spirit of Thanksgiving is very much alive, that the progress of the American Dream lies more in our actions today than in the origin myths of yesteryear.