Thanksgiving service brings religions, people together

Nathan Baker • Nov 18, 2017 at 11:05 PM

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday of togetherness, representatives of multiple cultures and backgrounds will gather today to try to heal a divided nation.

At an interfaith Thanksgiving worship service at 7 p.m. in Johnson City’s Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church, leaders from Jewish, Islamic, Christian and potentially more traditions from the Tri-Cities hope to highlight the similarities joining people from all walks of life.

Rabbi Arthur Rutberg of Bristol’s B’Nai Sholom Congregation started the annual tradition in 2015, shortly after he came to the synagogue.

“The purpose is to celebrate what we share,” he said. “We all share the idea of giving thanks and a common god among us all.”

At the hour-long service, leaders will read passages from the Bible, Quran and Torah and lead the attendees in song.

Because Thanksgiving is an American tradition, Rutberg said patriotic songs will also be included in the observations.

A collection will be taken up, proceeds from which will go to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, a nonprofit that provides food assistance to people in need in the eight surrounding counties.

Rutberg said programs like Sunday’s are important, especially now, when it seems divisions between cultures are widening and polarization is becoming more extreme.

“The more we can find the things we have in common, the better we get along,” the rabbi said. “There’s enough division in the world, we don’t need to divide ourselves any further. Human beings operate on the things we hold in common.”

Doug Grove-DeJarnett, an associate pastor at Munsey, agreed that now is the time to bridge the gap between people of different faiths and cultures.

“What we’ve seen lately are more things and more attempts in our culture trying to divide us, and that’s not who are as people in the United States,” he said. “When we were founded, people could come and find freedom together from our earliest traditions. That’s an important part of who we were and we need to do anything we can to demonstrate the unity we find as people who live together in this country.

“I think it’s gotten worse over the last year. There have been even more attempts to pretend like we’re a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant nation, and that’s not the case. We need to live together and build each other up.”

Grove-DeJarnett said a heavy emphasis will be put on peace at the service.

This will be the first year Munsey takes part in the multi-religion service, acting as host. Grove-DeJarnett said the event slipped under the church’s radar the past two years, but leaders were on-board to participate as soon as they were invited this year.

In its first year, about 120 people attended the service. In the second, slightly fewer, about 100 came to Jonesborough Presbyterian Church to take part.

Rutberg said he considers 100 a successful service.

“We try to schedule it so it doesn’t interfere with the Thanksgiving meal or anybody’s preparations, and it doesn’t get in the way of sports,” he said. “I hope people attend, find a benefit and come together.”

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