Buffalo Grove church packed for interfaith service

For 26 years, the annual interfaith Thanksgiving celebration in Buffalo Grove has brought members of local Christian and Jewish congregations together in prayer. This year's service drew a standing-room-only crowd Sunday night at St. Mary Catholic Church.

Ushers estimated that nearly 1,300 people jammed into the church - 300 more people than they had anticipated - for the service organized by the Northwest Suburban Interfaith Council.

"Our nation is in the middle of a difficult time, filled with division and harshness," Rabbi Lisa Bellows of Congregation Beth Am in Buffalo Grove said in the opening prayer. "We are in need of hope and healing. Help us to create a nation of love, not hate, filled with compassion, not prejudice."

The interfaith council was founded in 1990 with the aim of overcoming bigotry in the suburbs after anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on the Northwest Suburban Jewish Community Center.

Joanne Dicker of Buffalo Grove now serves as president. She greeted the crowd by pointing to the success of the interfaith council as a model for a country searching for ways to come together.

"We are a diverse group, with different faiths," Dicker said, "but we share the same principles: to do right, act justly and show mercy."

The interfaith council now represents 10 suburban faith communities: St. Mary Parish, Hope Lutheran, Kingswood Methodist, Congregation Beth Am, and B'nai Shalom in Buffalo Grove; Shir Hadash Synagogue in Wheeling, Congregation Beth Judea and Temple Chai in Long Grove, and St. Alphonsus Church and the Lutheran Church of Good Shepherd in Prospect Heights.

Diane Popper of Buffalo Grove helped start the interfaith council as a member of Congregation Beth Am in Buffalo Grove.

"This is so heartwarming," Popper said while surveying the crowd. "There's a real awareness here, and a sense of community. People know this is very special."

The 90-minute service lifted people with its music, including combined choirs, an orchestra, praise band and children's chorus.

A particularly poignant moment came midway during the service, when young children from the 10 faith communities joined to sing "Peace Will Come" by Tom Paxton.

The main speaker of the evening, the Rev. Wayne Miller of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Chicago Synod, offered his presentation in a video. Miller was part of the delegation that traveled to Rome for the elevation of Archbishop Blase Cupich to cardinal.

The Rev. Eric Schlichting of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, who introduced Miller, described it as the ultimate symbol of interfaith unity: that a Lutheran bishop would travel to the Vatican to see a Catholic bishop elevated to cardinal, with the Jewish mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.

"We give thanks for our differences," Miller said during his presentation filmed at the Vatican.

"It's more important than ever that we are free to live and love and work."

Sunday night's interfaith Thanksgiving service drew a standing-room-only crowd to St. Mary Catholic Church in Buffalo Grove. Courtesy of Jay Jayapalan
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