by Ronni Diamondstein
Like the Pilgrims and the Native Americans in Plymouth, Massachusetts nearly 400 years ago members of all faiths in Chappaqua will gather as a united community to give thanks and enjoy a meal on Sunday, November 24th at The First Congregational Church of Chappaqua. The Interfaith Thanksgiving Service starts at 4 p.m. and is followed by a dinner. Sponsored by The Chappaqua Interfaith Council, this popular event has grown from a small affair to a well-attended and much enjoyed Sunday afternoon experience.
The service celebrates how different communities give thanks. This year, Rev. Dr. Joel Clark Mason, President of The Council, will welcome everyone and participants from the member congregations will conduct the service, which includes prayers and music arranged by the various clergy. “The service originally consisted of prayers alone and at some point music was introduced,” said Rev. Dr. Mason.
“For more than 25 years, there has been an interfaith Thanksgiving service in New Castle, and seven years ago, in 2006, we expanded the event to include a community meal, which has been a great success, ” says Elinor Griffith, a lay representative from St. John and St. Mary’s Catholic Church who joined the Council in 2004. “Nearly 350 people– children, teens and adults, representing all local faith groups, from the Muslims and Jews to Baha’is, Catholics, Protestants and Quakers, attended last year’s event at St. John and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.”
“The service is uplifting and peaceful,” says Margaret Goodnough, a parishioner of St. Mary and St. John’s Catholic Church who looks forward to it every year. “It shows what we all have in common: love, caring, kindness and peace.”
Susan Pecker, a member of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester finds the service heartwarming. “There is such a sense of community and I particularly enjoy the music.” Rev. Dr. Mason recalls that one year the youth choir of the Baha’is gave a performance that “knocked everyone’s socks off.”
The reception following the service has evolved over the years from light refreshments to a plentiful Thanksgiving dinner. In the past five years, Crabtree’s Kittle House has donated the turkey, potatoes, gravy and cranberry relish. Members of the congregations provide the rest of the meal including delicious desserts.
The dinner is more than a culinary dining experience; it is an opportunity to get to know neighbors of other faiths. Esther Gates, a longtime Chappaqua resident and member of the First Congregational Church says that everyone is encouraged to sit with people they don’t know. When she attended the dinner two years ago at Temple Beth El, she dined with its Rabbi and members of the Baha’is of Northern Westchester. “The more you can bring people together to know each other the better. It’s a way of breaking down barriers,” says Gates.
Rev. Dr. Mason sums it up: “The best part of the service is how welcoming and warm it feels in a large church or synagogue to have all these different faiths together.” There is always an offering too. Last year attendees were asked to bring canned goods to be donated to the Interfaith Food Pantry in Pleasantville.
The Chappaqua Interfaith Council was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1981, even though the roots of the Council go back much further. The Council is composed of eight congregations: Baha’is of New Castle, Chappaqua Friends Meeting, First Congregational Church, Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester, The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Episcopal, Upper Westchester Muslim Society and St. John and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
“It is a gathering of clergy and lay leaders from our town’s faith groups who are devoted to building bridges of understanding between our communities,” says Griffith about the Council’s mission. In the aftermath of 9/11, for example, The Chappaqua Interfaith Council together with the Friends of the Chappaqua Library, arranged to have Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, an Islamic scholar and visiting Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, speak at the Chappaqua Library Theater. The Council also co-sponsored the Library’s screening of the documentary film “Mothers of Bedford” on February 21, 2013. The film follows five mothers incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in NY State as they work to “parent” from behind bars with the help of an innovative parenting program inside the prison.
In 2012, the spring event was “Mark Twain and the Minister.” Steve Courtney, editor of publications at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT, spoke about Twain and his close friendship with the minister Joseph Twichell. In 2011, a panel discussion comprised of local representatives of different faiths discussed the topic, “Is Rationality the Death of Religion?” All are welcome to the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, Sunday, November 24, 4 p.m., First Congregational Church, 210 Orchard Ridge Road, Chappaqua. http://www.fcc-chappaqua.org/directions.htm
Ronni Diamondstein, owner of Maggie Mae Pup Reporter™ is a Chappaqua based freelance writer, PR consultant, award-winning photographer and former School Library Media Specialist and teacher who has worked in the US and abroad.