Niles Township 2017 Thanksgiving Interfaith Service

This year's 47th Annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service will be Tuesday evening, November 21st at 7:30 pm. at St. Peter's United Church Of Christ, 8013 Laramie Ave, Skokie (across from Village Hall).

The Interfaith Service of Thanksgiving, sponsored by the Niles Township Clergy Forum, has happened every year since it began at Temple Judea Mizpah in 1971. Host sites have rotated between Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic houses of worship, and in 2011 it was at the Assyrian National Council building in Skokie. This year, as part of its 150th Anniversary celebration, the host is Saint Peter's United Church of Christ in Skokie, the Niles Township's first established congregation.

Traditionally, the service has taken place the night before Thanksgiving. This year it has been moved to Tuesday night. "We wanted to make it more convenient for people who wish to attend," says St. Peter's pastor, Rev. Richard Lanford. "We understand that the night before Thanksgiving can be a busy time for families."

The service is a collection of responsive litanies, prayers, sacred writings, and traditional hymns. An anthem will be sung by the Skokie Concert Choir, and each major faith tradition will share a piece of its own heritage. The featured speaker will be Mr. Kareem Irfan, the first Muslim President of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

"After September 11, 2001, the Clergy Forum was intentional about expanding the invitation and participation to those of Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu faiths that are also part of Skokie's faith communities," says Rev. Lanford.

A cash offering will go to the Skokie Human Services Assist-A-Family program, and non-perishable food donations will go to the Niles Township Food Pantry. A time of fellowship follows the service, at which light refreshment will be provided.

"In these troubled and polarized times, interfaith gatherings of unity and gratitude such as this one are more important than ever," says Rev. David Haley, the pastor of Central United Methodist and convener of the Niles Township Clergy Forum.

The format for the service is what is known as "The Assisi Model" of interreligious observance. This has become the most inclusive way for believers of different traditions to celebrate an interreligious observance. In 1986, the leaders of the world's religions gathered in Assisi, Italy to pray for peace in the world. This model is named after that gathering.

"In the Assisi model, worshipers do not see ourselves as praying together, but rather that we are together - praying," says Rabbi Michael A. Weinberg from Temple Beth Israel. "We gather in respect of our common humanity. No one is asked to say 'Amen' to another tradition's prayer. Group participation is limited to singing or recitation of texts acceptable to all."

The Assisi Model allows a community to welcome all religious traditions. It allows the traditions to "be themselves" in the prayers they offer. There is no watering down of language or belief. By the same token, no one is asked to participate in anyone else's prayer.

This is the model that informs the Niles Township Clergy Forum's Thanksgiving Interfaith Service. They gather, not to pray together, but to be together - praying. Anyone, of any faith, is invited to participate in this special service.

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