Rochester’s Union Thanksgiving Service

Third Presbyterian

I celebrated Thanksgiving by attending an interfaith Union Thanksgiving Service this morning at Third Presbyterian Church here in Rochester, N.Y., with participating clergy from the home church, First Baptist Church, First Unitarian Church, First Universalist Church, Temple Beth El, Temple B’rith Kodesh, and Temple Sinai.

A Muslim representing the Islamic Center of Rochester preached the sermon, on the Quran’s teaching of the duty to be grateful for God’s blessings.  A member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church played the organ.

Union Thanksgiving Services have been held in Rochester every year starting in 1874, when First Unitarian, First Universalist and Temple B’rith Kodesh held a joint Thanksgiving service.  Our claim is that it is the longest-running Union Thanksgiving Service in the United States.

The hosting of the services is rotated among the participating congregations, and the different parts of the service are rotated among the participating clergy.  Next year Temple B’rith Kodesh will host the service, and somebody from First Baptist Church will give the sermon.

One exception to the rotation is the Muslim call to prayer, which is part of each year’s service.  When done properly, it is very powerful and penetrating, and I can imagine someone on a minaret being heard for a mile or more.  This year’s caller was a college student, who wasn’t quite as powerful as some of the more experience callers in prior years.

Another thing we always have is the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, which is part of Jewish worship.  This year the blower played a kind of tune on the shofar, which I’d never heard before and wouldn’t have been sure was possible.

Giving of thanks for blessings, and celebration of harvest-time festivals around harvest-time, are part of every religion and culture of which I know.  Knowing I live in a world where people are still killing each other in the name of religion, I feel good when I am able to attend an interfaith service such as this.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that interfaith religious services happen only in America, but I think they represent what is good in American life—the willingness of people of diverse heritages to seek common ground.

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