More than 1,000 people of various faiths braved cold, rainy weather Tuesday night to gather for song, prayer and a stemwinder of a sermon at Mecklenburg Ministries’ 38th annual interfaith Thanksgiving service.
The two-hour event at Covenant Presbyterian Church, whose bells beckoned the worshipers, also included a Native American blessing, accompanied by drumbeat; a center-aisle performance by liturgical dancers from St. Paul Baptist and Friendship Missionary Baptist; and readings from texts sacred to Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus.
Mecklenburg Ministries, with nearly 100 congregations of many faiths, tries with the yearly service and a host of other events to promote interfaith relationships and social justice.
Ronald Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University, a school founded by Presbyterians, started his thunderous preaching from the pulpit by calling Thanksgiving “a common-ground holiday” and saluting the sight of so many from different faiths joining together.
“I can see the boundaries that each of you has crossed in order to come together and congregate as a single community,” he told those packed into the pews. “Each of you is distinct in your multifaceted faith commitments, yet also passionately aware that what brings us together is bigger than any of us and more expansive than any one of our tribes.”
The theme of his sermon was the courage it takes to be thankful even in tough times like today.
“We can be our best in the worst of times,” Carter said, later concluding that “we have the courage because God, God, God, is the center of (our) joy.”
An interfaith choir sang, as did a children’s choir. An interfaith orchestra performed. So did the Charlotte Bronze Hand Bell Ensemble.
And as part of its celebration of Native American culture, the crowd heard the debut of “We All Sing” by composer William Neil.
The service was moved to Covenant Presbyterian in Dilworth after St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne bowed out rather than formally invite Steav Bates-Congdon to be a member of the team planning and performing music for the service.
Last year, Bates-Congdon was fired by another Catholic church, St. Gabriel, after he traveled to New York to marry his longtime male partner and then put the wedding photos on Facebook. He is music director at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill and helped with Tuesday’s music.
There was no mention of the controversy during Tuesday’s service, though the Rev. Glencie Rhedrick, president of the Mecklenburg Ministries board, did thank St. Matthew “for their creativity and steadfastness.” She also thanked the Rev. Bob Henderson, pastor at Covenant Presbyterian, for “saying yes” to taking over hosting duties and to his congregation “for their spirit of cooperation and excitement.”
The night appeared to offer something for everyone, including children. Srikanth Rajagopalan told the kids a story about Krishna, one of the most popular representations of God in Hinduism.
And in her Native American blessing, Robbie Warren, also known as Otter Woman Standing, invoked Mother Earth and grandmothers and grandfathers of the North, South, East and West, and said that “we are all connected.”
The Rev. Nicole Martin announced that her church, the Park, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year, will host the 2014 interfaith Thanksgiving service.
Then the diverse congregation joined voices in “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”