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Rabbi Mark Cohn, the Rev. Randy Harris and the Rev. Ginny Tobiassen: Remaining thankful in an unusual year

Rabbi Mark Cohn, the Rev. Randy Harris and the Rev. Ginny Tobiassen: Remaining thankful in an unusual year

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Ordinarily, this Sunday before Thanksgiving is the day when members of our congregations and friends from the community would gather for our annual Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, a tradition that began in 1965. The congregations that participate have grown and changed through the years, with current congregations including Augsburg Lutheran Church, Community Mosque, First Christian Church, Highland Presbyterian Church, Home Moravian Church, Knollwood Baptist Church, St. Timothy Episcopal Church, St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Temple Emanuel and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem.

Ordinarily, we would sing together, pray together and hear readings from the texts our varied traditions consider sacred, while also listening with love and respect to those texts that may not be our own, but are beloved by our neighbors. Our gathering bears witness to our hope that the Almighty will continue to overcome the barriers that separate us, and serves as a reminder of the importance of our embodying our thankfulness through love and service to others.

Ordinarily, we would give thanks for the gift of life together in our community and nation, a common witness we have offered in times of joy and cooperation and in times of deep stress. (After all, this gathering has taken place for well over 50 years, and we have faced many challenges through those years!)

Ordinarily, we would receive offerings: food for our hungry neighbors and dollars for community mission partners who support our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

Ordinarily, we would gather afterward to share food and drink, to visit with neighbors, to renew friendships and to celebrate the abiding gifts of life together in this community we love.

But this is no ordinary year. A pandemic has disrupted our lives, and our life together, and we are making our way through extraordinary times in every way. If ever there were a time when we would want to gather, this is that time! Yet knowing that it is unsafe for us to gather, we are disappointed that we will not hold our service this year.

Nevertheless, our gratitude for one another, and for this community, is undiminished. This year, maybe more than ever, we are deeply grateful to God for countless enduring and abundant gifts — gifts of faithfulness, creativity, resilience and love, as well as the gifts of the scientific and medical communities that are addressing head-on the challenges of this pandemic. We pray for their safety and for their success.

We encourage community members to be especially mindful of our neighbors who lack sufficient food or shelter, and to find ways to support them in this challenging season. (Ordinarily, we would donate our food offering to Crisis Control Ministry, and our dollars to Samaritan Ministries. In this extraordinary year, we encourage you to share with them as well, or with others who also engage in this important work.)

We look forward in hope to gathering next year, and encourage other neighbors and friends to join with us as we continue to pray for God’s blessing on our community and world.

On behalf of all of the congregations who share in this annual service, Rabbi Mark Cohn (Temple Emanuel), the Rev. Randy Harris (Highland Presbyterian) and the Rev. Ginny Tobiassen (Home Moravian).

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