Leaders and representatives of 11 faith communities helped lead the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Mayflower Congregational Church Tuesday.
It was an extraordinary display of unity during a time of extreme division in Oklahoma and the United States.
The annual service dates back to 1948 when Pilgrim Congregational Church, First Unitarian Church and the Temple B’nai Israel Reform Synagogue held a joint Thanksgiving service for Oklahoma City.
It was, and continues to be, a gesture that represents the value liberal faith traditions hold for finding what people of faith have in common rather than how they disagree.
These are the faith traditions represented by people who helped lead the service:
- Protestant Christian
- Reform Judaism
- Native American
- Conservative Judaism
- Roman Catholic Christian
Greg Seal is a member of Mayflower church and was there. The service itself is a special anniversary for him and his wife, Jennifer Seal.
“20 years ago I was searching where I was going to be spiritually. I came out of the United Methodist Church [a Christian Protestant denomination] and I didn’t know if I wanted to study B’hai, or what,” Seal told Free Press.
“And I came to the Thanksgiving service that was hosted at Mayflower, and I joined and we were married here. And so every year comes full circle.”
We talked with Sabi Singh who comes to his faith through the Sikh religion. He has had a long commitment to interfaith dialogue and understanding. So much so that he is a member of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma and is a past president.
He said he makes a point to attend the service every year.
“I am here to celebrate Thanksgiving in the company of a lot of people who think the same way as I do,” said Singh. “They belong to different religions. They belong to different backgrounds. We really enjoy it.”
Oklahoma City Ward 2 Councilman Dr. Ed Shadid was the guest speaker.
Shadid has been an outspoken member of the City Council since first being elected in 2011. He is a physician whose practice focuses on helping former and current soldiers manage problems created for them by their service.
Dr. Robin Meyers, senior pastor of Mayflower for the last 30 years, introduced Shadid.
At Shadid’s encouragement, Meyers included facts about Shadid that standard social norms would prohibit.
Shadid will mark 13 years of recovery Nov. 28 and believes that when people stay quiet about their long-term recovery it perpetuates a culture of shame that works against recovery.
The focus of his talk was on the value of gratitude and what it means not only in faith, but in medicine as well.
“We celebrate our differences. But it’s most powerful when we can come to a consensus where there is agreement among all the faiths,” Shadid said to the crowd that filled every pew in the church.
“Gratitude is a universal religious sentiment. There is no exception to the rule. Every religion tries to provoke that emotion more than any other emotion.”
But Shadid was there to speak not from a religious viewpoint, but from a scientific one about the value of gratitude.
He said that over the last 20 years there has grown an “avalanche” of scientific evidence pointing to the deep benefits of gratitude on combating some of the most dread diseases such as cancer.
He concluded that gratitude also brings about action for those who are the least powerful and encouraged those present to do the same.
Mayflower Associate Minister Rev. Lori Walke gave the final blessing of the service.
The part of the blessing that drew the most audible response pointed to the struggle people of faith have had against extremism and hate.
Bless you interfaith community for showing up for one another. Not just on this night, this is the easy stuff. But bless you for showing up on the difficult days like when fundamentalists try to intimidate our Muslim neighbors into staying away from the Capitol. Bless you for saying loudly, clearly, and with as much love as possible: Nope! Not today, bigot!
The congregation laughed the loudest of the evening in response.
Some clapped. Most smiled.
It was a heartfelt response from so many of faith who value unity over division.