November 24, 2010

Multiple faiths give thanks under same roof

One hundred and twenty-five residents gathered together at the First Presbyterian Church in Mahopac for an interfaith Thanksgiving service, which featured leaders from the Church of the Holy Communion, Church of Saint John the Evangelist, the First Presbyterian Church, Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church, Mount Hope United Methodist Church and Temple Beth Shalom.

During the service, each of these leaders sat at a table decorated with harvest goods to symbolize the Thanksgiving table. An offering from the congregation to the Saint John Food Pantry was also placed on the table after being collected.

The event, hosted by Pastor Ken Mast of First Presbyterian Church, is an annual occurrence, and started long before he began his 22-year tenure in Mahopac. A celebration of community, he says the service is "a wonderful opportunity for different congregations to gather together." With Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Jews, Presbyterians, and people of many other faiths in attendance, Mast put together a service with universal meanings that could be appreciated by everyone. "We do this every year to encourage a community spirit and emphasize our commonality, and what we share as people of faith and as citizens," he said.

Rabbi Eytan Hammerman of Temple Beth Shalom gave the evening's sermon, which quoted Genesis 9:12, and focused on the communal spirit of Thanksgiving. "Though our beliefs differ in some very obvious ways," Hammerman said, "we agree on at least one fundamental value, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves." He used the image of a rainbow from the biblical story of the flood, noting that "while a rainbow is different colors, they all blend together. We are different, and we are all together." Hammerman also encouraged the congregation to think past the more obvious things to be thankful for on this holiday, and to be grateful for not only our families, but for our neighbors in Mahopac and in the global community.

Bernie Sotter, who works in Mahopac and lives in Carmel, attended the service specifically to see Rabbi Hammerman's sermon. "I read one of his sermons, and I liked it very much," he said. "It's nice to see all of the different religions come together here."

The choir, made up of singers from each of the congregations and directed by Marcia A. Slater, performed six hymns to provide music for the gathering. Half of these were taken from the Psalms, because, as Mast explained, they are metrical verse translated from Hebrew. Two of the hymns were patriotic songs, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and "America the Beautiful," celebrating the United States on the eve of Thanksgiving. Readings were similarly accessible and universal, and included the 2010 Presidential Proclamation from President Obama declaring the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Katherine Bogen, 9, was on hand to pass out bulletins, and said she liked attending the Thanksgiving service. "This year," she said, "I'm thankful for my family, and my friends. And also for tacos. They're my favorite food."

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