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November 21, 2013

Interfaith Thanksgiving service brings together diverse faiths

The 17th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service brings together diverse faith traditions, from Buddhists to Christians, Muslims to Sikhs. Each will offer a sacred reading, music or word of thanks.

The 17th annual community Interfaith Thanksgiving service will be held Monday for the first time in a Sikh temple.

The 7 p.m. service, with the theme of “Giving Thanks, Building Bridges,” is sponsored by the recently created Stanislaus County Interfaith Council.

“In this diverse society, and in a world where religious intolerance puts all of us at risk, we seek representation from the full spectrum of faith communities, as well as the unaffiliated,” according to a letter from the council. “We understand religious diversity as a strength, because, behind all the seeming differences in our languages and rituals, we share meanings and goals and need one another in order to build a connected and peace-filled community.”

The evening will include sacred readings, music and words of thanks from several groups, including Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, pagan and Sikh.

It will be followed by a reception and, for those who can stay later, a full meal put on by the Sikh congregation, said the Rev. Erin Matteson, co-pastor of Church of the Brethren and coordinator of the event. Child care will be provided.

Attendees are asked to bring an offering of vegetarian canned food, other nonperishable food items, men’s clothing or financial gifts, which will benefit the food pantry and clothes closet of the nonprofit Inter-Faith Ministries of Modesto. Despite the similar name, the organization is not part of the annual service or the council sponsoring the event.

The event is not meant to encourage a person to give up his personal faith and embrace another, Matteson said. Rather, it’s a “safe place” to share an evening with people of many faiths.

“No one should give up their beliefs or dishonor their beliefs,” Matteson said. “This gathering is about the best of each that all of our beliefs call us to, in terms of how to treat other people. Every faith calls us to peace, to compassionate relationships. It’s getting to know one another beyond our prejudices and our misunderstandings, and our assumptions that are so often wrong.

“What I love about this service is that it brings the diversity in our community together. We’re usually with people who are like us. This service provides that safe place where people can be with others who are not like us. The service always gives an energy. There’s a fragrance of love, compassion and peace. That night, the magic happens, and it’s a good experience.”

Rabbi Andra Greenwald of Modesto said she enjoys the annual service, which was held at Congregation Beth Shalom in 2009.

“I cannot think of many things more meaningful at this special time of year than gathering with people of faith to be reminded, as one ... that we have been blessed with many, many gifts and that we all have so much more in common than many of us often realize,” Greenwald said.

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