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Faiths Teaming Up to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Holiday: Ecumenical services will dot the county during what most often is marked as a secular occasion.

November 21, 1998|ELAINE GALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To most Americans, Thanksgiving is a day to graze on hot turkey and zone out in front of football on TV.

For several churches in Orange County, however, it's a lot more: an opportunity for interfaith Thanksgiving services that celebrate diversity along with familiar themes of home, hearth and harvest.

Just as the original Thanksgiving brought together disparate cultures--namely the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims--the holiday continues to serve as a bridge for folks of all faiths.

Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, many religious institutions hold formal services to honor its theme of abundance. Since Thanksgiving isn't formally sponsored by any religious body, the holiday is an natural opportunity for interfaith activity, say many in the local clergy.

Among local joint celebrations, some on Wednesday night and others on Sunday, is the 41st annual interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service held by Temple Beth Emet of Anaheim and the Anaheim United Methodist Church.

The tradition began in 1957 after the Methodist church offered to share its sanctuary, said Rabbi Mordecai Kieffer at Temple Beth Emet.

"Our building had burned down and there wasn't enough time to get another facility," he said.

The temple established a permanent location in 1963, but the tradition continues even though the congregations are miles apart. This year, the Emanuel Pentecostal Romanian Church of God, which is sharing the temple's sanctuary, is also joining the celebration.

"This is the time to give thanks for the freedom to worship that all religions have in the United States," said Shirley Glowalla, administrator for Temple Beth Emet.

"Thanksgiving resonates with most every American, whether you're an Orthodox Jew, an atheist or a Buddhist," said Benjamin J. Hubbard, professor of religious studies at Cal State Fullerton, who is taking part himself in a joint service in Irvine.

The Thanksgiving holiday, however, does have religious roots. After several meager harvests left the Pilgrims with a paltry food supply and little hope, an unexpected season of bountiful crops compelled them to give thanks to God in a formal ceremony.

Stripped of its ecclesiastical origins, Thanksgiving has turned into a secular holiday celebrated by millions of Americans with the dual rituals of food and football.

"Thanksgiving is now part of the religion of the republic," said Hubbard. "Our sacred book is the Constitution. Holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are part of our liturgical calendar."

Billed as a Thanksgiving Eve service, one of the biggest interfaith gatherings will be held Wednesday at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church in Buena Park. The event is co-sponsored by the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Buena Park and the Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Cypress.

It turns out that many local interfaith services were born out of sheer convenience rather than a deliberate attempt to foster an ecumenical spirit of Thanksgiving.

Housed in the same building, a Korean American congregation called the California Martes Church and the First United Methodist Church of Fullerton are planning a joint Thanksgiving service this year to formalize a cooperative relationship that began with joint Bible study and other events.

"This was an opportunity to worship God and give thanks in a cooperative spirit," said Michael Winstead, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Fullerton.

Sharing a parking lot was the impetus 13 years ago to start joint Thanksgiving services between the Temple Judea and the United Methodist Church, both of Laguna Hills.

"Everyone observes Thanksgiving," said Eileen Miller, office manager at Temple Judea. She said the Korean Methodist Church, also a neighbor, will participate this year. "It's a good time to share with everyone."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebrations in O.C.

The California Martes Church will join Fullerton First United Methodist Church for a Thanksgiving service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Each church's choir will sing an anthem. The church is at 114 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton. Information: (714) 871-4115.

Irvine United Church of Christ and University Synagogue will hold their 10th annual joint Thanksgiving service Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the sanctuary of the facility they share, 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. Cal State Fullerton professor Benjamin J. Hubbard will speak on "The Challenge of Religious Diversity" and a gathering with refreshments will follow. Information: (949) 733-0220.

St. Joseph's Episcopal Church will offer a Thanksgiving Eve service at 7 p.m. Wednesday. This evening of praise, thanksgiving and music is co-sponsored by St. Joseph's, the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd and Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. Participants are asked to bring nonperishable goods to be distributed by the Buena Park Coordinating Council and the We Care agency of Los Alamitos. The church is at 8300 Valley View St., Buena Park. Information: (714) 828-8950.

The 41st annual Inter-Faith Thanksgiving celebration of Temple Beth Emet and the Anaheim United Methodist Church will take place at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Temple Beth Emet. The Emanuel Pentecostal Romanian Church of God will also participate in the festivities. The temple is at 1770 W. Cerritos Ave., Anaheim. Information: (714) 772-4720.

Temple Judea, the United Methodist Church and the Korean Methodist Church will join for a musical Thanksgiving service at 3 p.m. Sunday in Temple Judea's Berlin Sanctuary. Refreshments will follow. The temple is at 24512 Moulton Parkway, Laguna Hills. Information: (949) 830-0470.

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