The Baha’is in Washington County, Oregon, recently participated in a very successful Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, the tenth annual event of its kind held in the city of Hillsboro, the seat of the county government. The program was an exciting success because of the diversity of the participating religious faiths, the large size of the audience, and the atmosphere of fellowship and love which touched the hearts of everyone present.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) hosted the event at their Stake Center (church) in Hillsboro. The program included Mormons, Baha’is, members of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Jews, Unitarians, Moslems, and Scientologists. In addition, for the first time, Hindus and Buddhists joined the program, making this the most diverse and inclusive program in the ten-year history of the event.
There were over 1,000 persons in attendance. So large was the audience that the hosts found it necessary to open the rear walls of the sanctuary to allow overflow seating in the adjacent gymnasium.
The theme of the program, “Generous in Prosperity, Thankful in Adversity”, comes from a passage in Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah. Children from each of the participating religions read from their sacred writings, and often explained in their own words the relevance of the theme to the teachings of their faith.
The opening hymn, selected by the Presbyterian choir director, was a Baha’i prayer entitled “Blessed is the Spot.” The interfaith choir, comprised of the 30-person Mormon choir and guests from many faiths, filled the church with this beautiful hymn.
Many eyes glistened with tears during the singing of “America the Beautiful” and other inspiring songs, and as the Director of Family Bridge described the way her agency, together with local religious communities acting through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, has helped homeless families. The program included an opportunity for making contributions for the benefit of Family Bridge. Over $2,500 was contributed during the program.
The devotional program concluded Max Defender, a Baha’i who chanted a prayer from his Native American tradition. Max took a moment first to explain the nature of the blessing. He said it would be a prayer of thanksgiving, not just for food, but also for the suffering and sacrifices of the Prophets, for our ancestors, and for the earth. With these few words, Max enlightened the audience about the unity of all the diverse faiths participating in the program, the unity of the mission of their Prophets, and the station of Baha’u’llah among the succession of Prophets. He enabled the audience to understand the complexity and depth of the Native American prayer. He gave us all a glimpse of the prophetic words of Shoghi Effendi, who said that one day, the original inhabitants of America would be a light unto all the world.
The fellowship and love which permeated the devotional program took concrete expression as the fellowship meal was served. This was a potluck dinner and various faiths communities provided the food and decorations.
Various participating organizations displayed their colorful banners in the banquet hall. The lovely Baha’i banner was created by Bijan Samizadeh, of Hillsboro.
During the dinner, a gentleman from Pakistan, whose children had read from the Koran during the program, chatted with some of the Baha’is. He asked about the persecution of the Faith in Iran. He marveled at the love and unity which marked the gathering, and remarked that only in America could one find such fellowship among people of such diverse religions.
The Interfaith Thanksgiving Service was created in 1998 by a small number of religious communities and organizations, including the American Jewish Committee (based in Portland, Oregon), Unitarians, and several Protestant denominations and the Baha’is. Hillsboro’s First Congregational United Church of Christ hosted the event for many years. In 2001, the Bilal Mosque Association was invited to participate, as a gesture of friendship after the events of September 11.
A few years later, the Inter-religious Action Network (IAN) assumed sponsorship for the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and helped it flourish. Participation expanded to include Mormons, Catholics, and Scientologists, as well as humanitarian organizations such as the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which serves homeless families. To accommodate the growing audience, the program was moved to a larger facility, the Mormon Stake Center in 2005. Today, the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service is one of six annual interfaith events sponsored by the IAN.