Not your grandmother's Thanksgiving service

A gathering tonight on Phinney Ridge goes beyond ecumenical, or even most interfaith services. It's a true celebration of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Islamic beliefs.
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A gathering tonight on Phinney Ridge goes beyond ecumenical, or even most interfaith services. It's a true celebration of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Islamic beliefs.

Different churches joining together for a community Thanksgiving Eve or Day service is nothing new. For a long time now the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans along with a host of other Christian churches and denominations have joined forces for a midweek Thanksgiving worship.

But when you hear the shofar sounded at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church this evening, the day before Thanksgiving, you may begin to suspect that you'ꀙre in new territory. If the sound of the Jewish ram'ꀙs horn trumpet, used to signal the beginning of Jewish holy days like Yom Kippur, isn'ꀙt exotic enough for you, just hang on a minute. The next thing you hear will be the words of the Islamic call to prayer chanted over the PA system of this prominent, pink and brownstone Lutheran church on Greenwood Avenue, 20 blocks north of Woodland Park Zoo.

Religious leaders of various faiths will process up the aisle of the Lutheran sanctuary to the sound of the shofar. Among them will be Buddhist, Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian clergy. In the congregation will be worshippers from each tradition and community. The chant of the Muslim call to prayer will be followed by a welcome to all and then a prayer from the Buddhist tradition.

This will be the second year for the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Phinney Ridge. 'ꀜAt last year'ꀙs service,'ꀝ recounted one of the participants, 'ꀜthe Torah began to slide down the pulpit as the rabbi, Daniel Wiener of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, read.'ꀝ Seeing the problem, a Muslim leader from Omar Al-Farooq Mosque rose to assist the rabbi. With the Islamic leader, Jamil Vaughn Shoot, holding the Torah in place the rabbi completed the reading. 'ꀜIt was a quietly powerful and yet somehow incredible moment.'ꀝ

At the service this year, which begins at 7:30 tonight, leaders expect an even larger congregation than last year'ꀙs of nearly 600. An hour before the service a choir made up of people from all the participating communities will gather to practice. Anyone who would like to be a part of the choir is welcome to join in. Last year the choir itself numbered over 100.

Phinney Ridge Pastor Paul Hoffman said that early on in the planning, which began in September last year, 'ꀜWe decided not to make it a 'ꀘleast common denominator'ꀙ service. In other words, a service in which every single element would be commonly agreed upon. Rather, we developed a service around the best practices of each tradition.'ꀝ It made for a very rich experience.

This represents a departure from conventional ecumenical (different Christian groups) and interfaith (different religions) services. Often there is a drive to the least common denominator with the result being a worship service that is a bit like Wonder Bread, bland and tasteless. Rather than such a white-bread experience, the Thanksgiving Eve Interfaith Service at Phinney Ridge will more nearly resemble a table laden with authentic and variously textured breads from a whole host of religious traditions. Religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim will each speak from the sacred texts of their faith.

Following the service last year there was a fellowship time that was, in Hoffman'ꀙs word, amazing. There was a pie on every table, with sides of finger food from all sorts of different ethnicities and cultures. Conversation was animated and convivial. 'ꀜPeople just simply did not want to go home,'ꀝ Hoffman said.

Something had happened, something mysterious and good and graceful that night before Thanksgiving last year on Greenwood Avenue. Thanksgiving looked less like a remembrance of times long past and more like a vision of some new day emerging.

Recent months in the Greenwood neighborhood have been tough ones, with a string of arson fires bringing property damage and creating unease among residents. When you combine this with a challenging economy, gratitude may not be the obvious response. And yet, gratitude is sometimes most deeply felt, not at times of ease and bounty, but in the face of adversity and hardship. Perhaps it shall be so again this year when many different people and traditions are summoned together by the sound of an ancient shofar.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Anthony B. Robinson

Anthony B. Robinson was the Senior Minister of Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle from 1990 to 2004. He was also a member of the Plymouth Housing Group Board. After living for many years in southeast Seattle, he moved recently to Ballard.