Many faiths to join in prayer of thanksgiving in Rockaway
November 20, 2013
Neighbor News (Dover Edition)
The Rockaway area comprises a diverse population which will be celebrated in the community’s first Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, led by representatives from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu faiths, on Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Rockaway, 35 Church St. in Rockaway Borough.
In the past, ecumenical services that involved only a variety of Christian denominations took place. This more inclusive Thanksgiving service is an outgrowth of the relationship formed in recent years among many of the area religious leaders.
Rev. Mitchell Trigger of the First Presbyterian Church, observed that it "reflects the reality of our community - that there are many peoples of faith living here, all preparing to give thanks on our national day of Thanksgiving."
photo courtesy of Marcie Kintish White Meadow Temple in Rockaway Township will be among the participants in the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in Rockaway Borough.
Speaking on his own behalf and that of his wife, Sue, co-pastor at the church, Trigger said, "We are thrilled to have this opportunity to gather together with other people from the surrounding community, gathering as peoples of faith and as citizens of the United States. After all, Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday but a national holiday - if we can't gather together for one brief moment to give thanks to God the Creator (by whatever name we each use), it will be hard to live together the rest of the year. We have been blessed to have had significant dialogue with many of the people of other faiths and count them as friends. We'd like to think that kind of relationship is possible for all of us."
Unfortunately, this spirit of unity does not exist within the entire religious community. According to Rev. John W. Hansen, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in the Lake Telemark section of Rockaway Township, and "convener" of the Rockaway Ecumenical Clergy and the Rockaway Interfaith Community, some, who were present at the ecumenical services will not be involved with this service because they "choose not to participate in any joint religious endeavors that are not Christo-centric." Hansen, for his part, believes, "when dealing with matters of faith and conscience, we feel that it is important to permit sufficient latitude for everyone to exercise their belief systems to the greatest extent possible. In a time of increasing religious cynicism and apathy, I find any interest in providing any forum for the expression of faith in any form to be a reason for hope and celebration."
Bringing together different faiths has presented for Hansen and others "a learning curve."
He explained, "As we tentatively find our way through the myriad complexities of any interfaith jointly sponsored venture, discovering, respecting and accommodating one another's cultural and religious boundaries has been a huge challenge. We have all learned a great deal from our joint planning sessions. We have also discovered that it doesn't have to be as insurmountable a task as many originally assumed it might be. How hard is it? We simply make labels for the refreshments: 'Halal,' ... 'Kosher' and you're done!"
Hansen added, "We have made an intentional effort to make this an event that permits persons of any faith (or no faith) to come together to give thanks to whatever form or concept of a god they may choose, on a day designated by our country as a National Day of Thanksgiving. By 10 p.m. on Nov. 24, 2013, we'll know how successful we have been."
The faiths not usually represented in the Thanksgiving service are appreciative of now being included and welcome the opportunity to reach out and befriend other religions.
Dr. Aref Assaf, director, outreach and media relations of the Rockaway-based Islamic Center of Morris County, offered, "This will be the first time members of the Muslim community will not only be invited but actually participate in the Interfaith Service alongside representatives of other faith communities. This heralds a milestone for our growing community, which three years ago, embarked on building its community center to meet its growing religious and social needs. Our community shares the deeply felt sentiments of expressing our thanks to God for providing much more than sustenance. We are grateful for our health, for our children, parents, friends, relatives and neighbors. Above all, we are grateful for our nation which is large enough to welcome and provide untold opportunities for all its citizens.
"Thanksgiving for our Muslim community is an everyday obligation. But it is an appropriate occasion when at least once a year the American religious and cultural mosaic celebrates the limitless bounties of our America. The bounty of America is multiplied when the thanksgiving prayers are uttered in the tongues and representing the faiths of all who call America their home. It is a fitting opportunity to share those sentiments as we enjoy food and drink. After all, God created us to praise Him and show gratitude for what He bestowed upon us."
Rabbi Benjamin Adler of White Meadow Temple, said, "I am proud and excited to have helped found the Rockaway Interfaith Community (RIC) with my fellow local clergy. Our first task has been to plan the first ever Rockaway interfaith Thanksgiving service. This holiday is the perfect time for people of many faiths to come together in peace and friendship. No matter our theological differences, we all give thanks to God. I know that the members of White Meadow Temple crave opportunities to get to know their neighbors and their religions. The service will also be an opportunity for the Jewish community to teach others about our tradition with readings from the Torah and reflections. Rockaway is a diverse community, and so if we are going to be a more unified and neighborly place we must embrace that diversity, celebrate it, but also find the values we share."
He added, "To that end we are inviting people to use social media to share their thoughts and prayers. Members of our community can tweet their Thanksgiving prayers with the hashtag #RICThanks before and during the service. We hope to share these prayers during the program."
Elapully Ganapathy will represent ShriSanatan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Parsippany. Remarking on the importance of an interfaith service, he said, "Every religion or faith has its own beliefs and rituals to be followed. While seemingly different, I believe one of the primary purposes of all religions is to promote a harmonious society and recognize there is a force, call it ‘God’, beyond our control. However, over time this purpose is forgotten and only the mode of practicing a religion has predominated. Interfaith Services, such as the one to be held in Rockaway will offer an opportunity for people of various faiths to discuss their differences and hopefully come to an understanding of each other and peace for all."
As for the holiday bringing everyone together, he offered, "American Thanksgiving is portrayed as the Pilgrims thanking Native Americans for their help or as thanking god for a plentiful harvest. There is no direct equivalent in Hinduism. India is a country of vast differences, be it language or practice of religion. One thing common, however, is that we Hindus thank god for each and every aspect of life – be it for the food on the table or friendship between neighbors. The closest Hindu prayer to American Thanksgiving is perhaps the following prayer:
Om Sahana Vavatu. Saha nau Bhunactu. Saha veeryam karavavahai. Thejasvi navadhi thamasthu maa vidvishavahai. Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthihi. Om, May we all be protected, May we all be nourished, May we work together with great energy, May our intellect be sharpened, Let there be no animosity amongst us, Om, peace (in me), peace (in nature), peace (in divine forces)."
Also participating in the Thanksgiving service will be The United Methodist Church of the Rockaways, Teabo United Methodist Church of Wharton, and First Memorial Presbyterian Church of Dover. All were contacted for this article, but had not responded as of press time.