Unlike other major U.S. holidays, Thanksgiving isn’t limited to one religious group or denomination.
That fact was put on display Tuesday night at First United Methodist Church in Dothan, where leaders and churchgoers from some of the many religions represented in Dothan attended an interfaith Thanksgiving service.
Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews were represented by leaders who read excerpts from each religion’s scriptures.
“This is our second year sort of reviving a tradition that was here,” said the Rev. Patrick Gallagher, priest of St. Columba Catholic Church. “Different ministers and different churches got together around Thanksgiving to unite in faith, unite in prayer and to give thanks to God for all the blessings he has given us.”
Despite the differences between the religions, the service brought each group of followers together and helped improve relations between the groups.
“We are very clear that we don't all believe the same thing. We know we're different, but we all agree on giving thanks, so we can celebrate that,” said the Rev. Lynn Smilie Nesbitt of First United Methodist. “We believe it matters that we meet on what we agree on. We also believe that knowing each other makes each of us better and also makes us a better world, because we tend to be suspicious of people who we don't know. This is an effort to meet each other at a happy place.”
In order to increase awareness and understanding, the organizers held a reception after the service, giving believers of different faiths a chance to interact with one another.
“It's a wonderful thing. There is no negative,” said Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith of Temple Emanu-El. “The only negative last year that we heard is we didn't have enough time to talk. People literally stood in the aisles and didn't want to leave, so this year we've decided after the service we're going to have a reception with cookies and coffee, and that, to me, is the best thing that can come out of this. It’s people talking to each other and discussing their commonalities and becoming friends.”
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz, speaking to the crowd at the beginning of the service, credited the gathering for putting aside differences and celebrating ideals.
“It’s truly my honor to be the mayor of a city with such diversity that will still come together when the time comes to give thanks,” Schmitz said.
While reading a verse from the Quran about the value of good deeds, Muslim representative Abdus-Saboor Rushdan summed up the service.
“This certainly qualifies as a good work,” Rushdan said. “That’s what I see around us, and that’s what I feel.”