Service Attended: Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, Tuesday, November 20, 7:00 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church
Officiants: Imam Abdur-Rahman (Islamic Society of Santa Barbara), Rev. Peter Buehler (First Presbyterian Church), Cantor Mark Childs (Congregation B’nai B’rith), Rev. Dr. Hillary Chrisley (First United Methodist Church), Fr. Ludo De Clippel (Holy Cross Catholic Parish), Rabbi Stephen Cohen (Congregation B’nai B’rith), Rev. Teena Grant (Spiritual Care: Cottage Hospital), Rev. Erika Hewitt (Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation), Rev. Judith Muller (First Presbyterian Church), Rev. Dr. Alan Strout (First United Methodist Church), Pravrajika Vrajaprana (Vedanta Society).
Denomination: Interfaith, presented by the Clergy Association of Greater Santa Barbara
Congregation Size: over 200 attending
Special Offerings: Keynote Message: “Religion: Bridge or Barrier?” delivered by Dr. Mark Juergensmeyer; performance by the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus.
The overall message of the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service was deceptively simple: that faith should not be a barrier to understanding between different religious groups. Of course, this is easier said than done, as the Clergy Association recognizes. They hope that services like this one, in which members of congregations of different faiths and different churches all participate and worship together, will spark some of the goodwill that seems to be sorely lacking in the international political scene.
Certainly, the service did a very good job of incorporating elements of each of the represented religions’ services. Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian worship all had a place, and the program provided translations for the portions in Hebrew, Arabic or Hindi. Perhaps the most enjoyable portion of the evening, for any attendees who might not be as religious as others, was the music. The Santa Barbara Interfaith Chorale is an excellent group, and Cantor Mark Childs of B’nai B’rith, who directed the Chorale, has an amazing voice and range. Although the Muslim call to prayer, offered by Mohammed El Said of the Islamic Society, was not music, technically, the beauty of his voice made this part of the worship service as stirring and as artistic as the chorus.
In addition to music and prayer, the evening also included a speech from Mark Juergensmeyer, Ph.D., Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies. He addressed the topic of the increasing secularity and mistrust for religion which he sees as growing within the United States, comparing Islamophobia within the country to a generalized dislike for religious interference in secular life. Although his perspective may be somewhat skewed by his place of residence-other parts of the country are far more religiously oriented than California-his main point, that communities benefit from the sense of fellowship and morality that a church can provide, was well taken.
That idea of fellowship was both Dr. Juergensmeyer’s and the Clergy Association’s overriding message. By closing with America the Beautiful, sung by the Chorale and by the congregation, the service enforced this idea that Santa Barbara, and the United States as a whole, can benefit from a sense of unity.