A Feast of Gratitude
A report on the Interfaith Community Thanksgiving Service, hosted by Holy Trinity on November 24.
If you are looking for a delightful movie to enjoy, rent Babette’s Feast. The film is in Swedish with subtitles. It is a story about the power for softening hearts and opening minds of sharing a little prayer and some fine food.
But … if you were at church on Monday evening, November 24, you experienced this story firsthand already. Holy Trinity hosted the Interfaith Community Thanksgiving Service, organized annually by the East Lansing Clergy Association.
The evening was a dazzling success. We were at capacity in the sanctuary and the social hall. Everyone involved for our parish did their task beautifully and joyfully. The Parish Council, under the leadership of Stacie Neros, arranged for greeters and ushers as well as attendants in the parking lot. The Philoptochos Society helped with hostess duties and opened the Gift Shop for our guests. The AHEPA made a significant financial contribution to the event. The choir welcomed guest singers from other houses of worship for a combined chorus of singers.
There were worship leaders from eleven different traditions—Orthodox, Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Catholic, Christian Science, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Methodist, and Presbyterian. Each of the worship leaders offered a reading or prayer that was both representative of their own tradition and yet accessible and compatible with the beliefs of the others. It was an amazing demonstration of neighborliness and mutual respect. Whereas in other parts of the world, any two of these traditions would be hard pressed to enter the same building together, here we gathered and spoke in ways that were fully consistent with our own beliefs and yet without provoking those with whom we share our life in this city.
The combined choir had the joy of learning Orthodox Christian music from both the Byzantine and Slavonic traditions. Our choir director, Ruth Munk, worked her magic once again of bringing singers up to speed in a very short time on new music, and the choral offerings were simply glorious. Thank you, Ruth! They sang our Communion hymn, Psalm 135; the hymn from Great Compline,” Lord of the Powers”; and the Slavonic blessing, “God Grant You Many Years.” Several guests singers commented on the haunting beauty of our Orthodox musical heritage and were grateful for the opportunity to enjoy music of a modality so different from Western hymnody.
Because of the generous gift of AHEPA, our parish was able to offer the choir members a light meal before their rehearsal, catered by the Soup Spoon Café. We thank Nick Gavrilides for his part in making this a stellar evening. The service was introduced and concluded with our Bells playing a Russian Trezvon as a call to prayer, and then traditional American Thanksgiving hymns for a postlude. As we played the bells, we called to mind the three wonderful women whose memory is preserved by the purchase of our bell system: Georgana Popoff, Pauline Geovanes, and Roberta Schneiderman.
Judi Harris, the director of Refugee Service at St. Vincent Catholic Charities, was present to explain the evening’s collection for Winter Care Kits for newly arrived refugees.
The piece de resistance was the Fellowship Hour, catered by Dimitris Gavrilis. In order to accommodate the number of visitors, the Social Hall was cleared of tables and chairs and opened up for a buffet of delicious treats that reflected equally the harvest season, our Mediterranean heritage, and the Advent fast. It was simply stunning. Our guests were awed by the hospitality that we provided, all thanks to an anonymous donor who stepped up to allow the parish to provide this highest level of philoxenia. Our profound thanks to this parishioner who, in the true spirit of Christian giving, made this offering without desire for attention or recognition, in the truest tradition of Hellenic philotimo. Another anonymous parish family provided the flower arrangements for the cocktail tables and buffet.
Many of our guests told us that of the many Interfaith Thanksgiving services they had attended (it is, after all, the favorite Interfaith event of the year in our city), this was the best one ever. For our part, it was the feeling of many of our parishioners that it was an honor to host this event, and a meaningful offering to God of our gratitude for this wonderful city that we live in, and the great neighbors that we have in the people of faith around us. Several parishioners and guests alike expressed the wish that Holy Trinity would host this event every year.
My beloved parishioners,
I have such a deep sense of godly pride for what you accomplished in hosting this service. Many of you were as touched as was I by the beauty of this occasion and by the joy of being generous to our guests. It was something beyond words: to be able to show gratitude to God for the privilege of enjoying our greater Lansing and East Lansing community. Opening our hearts and our hands to the people of faith around us felt so right, and they in return expressed great gratitude for our offering. It was altogether an act of Thanksgiving, a softening of hearts and an opening of minds, mediated by the gift of a shared table laden with fine food. It was a spiritual and somatic feast, a mysterion, a joy unmixed with sorrow. I thank all of you who participated in any way, and I pray that we can make this offering of love again soon.
Fr. Mark Sietsema
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