November 25, 1998
Vol. 18 No. 5

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    Seventy-one-year tradition celebrates faith diversity

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    For 71 years, diverse groups from the University, Kenwood and Hyde Park communities have united in celebration of Thanksgiving Day at the annual Interfaith Community Thanksgiving service.

    The tradition will continue at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 26, when nearly 2,000 people are expected to gather in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel for this year’s service.

    “It is a moving, neighborhood-based celebration, an event that taps into our community spirit,” said the Rev. Samuel Speers, Associate Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and a board member of the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council, which is sponsoring the event.

    “It is a chance for all who are citizens to come together,” said the Rev. Susan Johnson, Senior Minister at Hyde Park Union Church and chair of the planning committee for the service.

    “When you’re walking over to the chapel–and you have to walk because so many people attend that there’s not enough room to park–you see people from different sectors of your life going to one place,” Johnson said.

    Emphasizing the integrity of the service, Speers said, “Interfaith celebrations are not easily accomplished because it is always difficult to bring together so many traditions.

    “Many times, one tradition predominates but tries to make room for others. Often, there’s a feeling of confusion.

    “Here (at the Thanksgiving service), you have a sense that these are the differing life commitments that people are living in the same community,” he said.

    “We gather not so much to learn about each other but to acknowledge and celebrate our diversity, a reality that is already among us and has been for a long time,” Speers added.

    In a way, Johnson said the event reminds her of voting. “When voting, we’re exercising our civic right. At the Thanksgiving service, we’re exercising the privilege of gathering in a joyful sense of freedom of assembly.”

    Though the service has been celebrated annually for 71 years, the tradition originally dates back to the 1900s. The planning committee holds records from the previous 70 celebrations. When planning the event, they review the previous preachers and participants in order to include those groups who have not recently been represented, Johnson said.

    The committee is sensitive to ethnicity, gender and religion when making those decisions, she said. “It’s our intention to be broad-minded.”

    The celebration incorporates blessings, benedictions, readings and offerings from several faith traditions. Music is highlighted at the service with performances by various musicians and the Chicago Children’s Choir, a multiracial, multicultural group.

    Susan Thistlethwaite, President of Chicago Theological Seminary and an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, will deliver the Thanksgiving sermon.

    The service is open to the public. More information is available from the Interfaith Council office at (773) 752-1911.