Several years ago three ELCA congregations on the northwest side of Seattle were worried that they weren’t doing enough to promote interfaith dialogue in their community.
They decided they needed to do something that would bring people together, hoping that “understanding would naturally be fostered if [they] had those opportunities,” says Julie Hutson, pastor of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church. “Since Thanksgiving is a national holiday, and not a religious holiday, that seemed like a natural time to gather.”
So now each year on Thanksgiving, those three ELCA congregations, Luther Memorial, Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, and St. John United Lutheran Church, gather with Presbyterians, Methodists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Buddhists and a Jewish community for a special Thanksgiving procession and service.
“We start at the Buddhist monastery,” says Julie. Those gathered can spin Buddhist prayer wheels that are outside the building. “As you pray and you spin these wheels, it sends the prayers out into the universe,” Julie explains.
After the prayer wheels, there is a candlelight procession from the monastery to Phinney Ridge about five blocks away.
“There’s this lovely procession of monks and Christian clergy and just everybody who has gathered,” Julie shares. “When we get to [Phinney Ridge] the people who have gathered there who didn’t walk in the procession form two lines of candles so the procession is greeted and welcomed.”
Once the procession reaches the church, the Muslim call to prayer beckons the crowd inside to worship and the shofar, a horn used in the Jewish tradition, is blown.
Once inside, all who gather participate in an interfaith service. “Our service is a mixture of all of our practices. It always has a theme,” Julie says. “We read scripture from all of the sacred texts that has to do with the theme.”
This year’s theme is “A Community of Lights,” and the group will collect an offering to donate to a community organization that helps those in need pay their electricity bills.
After the service, everyone gathers together for dessert and conversation.
“We kind of come together and reform ourselves as a community of God — not just of Christ, but of God,” Julie says. “This is just a time when I think the kingdom is at hand when we’re sitting together.”
“God’s love is just so much bigger than we can imagine,” Julie continues. “It’s just incredible. It’s just an awesome time.”