The theme was “Hope for America,” and only weeks after the close of an election year in which issues of faith proved just as divisive as matters of public policy, Maria Hanlin looked out over the hundreds gathered for the city’s annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service and found cause for optimism.
“This is the America that gives me hope,” said Hanlin, the executive director of Mecklenburg Ministries.
“I believe we give hope to God as well.”
For the 37th straight year, Charlotte’s faith community came together for a collective prayer of thanks. Once again, the message for the most American of holidays is of one big year-round Thanksgiving table to which all are welcome.
The pews of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church reflected that, with clergy and worshippers representing Jews and Muslims, Christians and Hindus, Sikhs and Mormons, even Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
The music kept to the theme. One of the evening’s highlights occurred when hundreds of children, youth and adult voices combined on the hymn “We Are One.”
The past months challenged that notion. From the spring campaign over the marriage amendment, to questions concerning Barack Obama’s Christianity and Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, religious beliefs bled into political ones.
One ironic note: Last January, Steav Bates-Congdon, the longtime music director at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church, was fired after he married his longtime partner in New York and put the wedding photos on Facebook.
Tuesday night, Bates-Congdon, the recently hired music director at Holy Covenant United Church of Christ, played piano and directed the Interfaith choirs and instrumental ensemble for several numbers.
The program opened on an unusual note – with the Muslim call to prayer.
“God is the Greatest, I bear witness that there is not deity except God,” Zaid Barzanji sang hauntingly in Arabic.
Imam John Ederer of the city’s Muslim American Society, gave the sermon. Though he alluded to the fact that his selection as speaker might be controversial in some circles, he stuck to the night’s theme – “Hope for America.”
Ederer noted the bruises of the election year, and the “New America” that pundits said had emerged on the other side.
There is nothing new about it, Ederer said. This is the America with a respect for diversity and a moral consciousness, drawn up by the Founding Fathers and commissioned by the words of God.
“This new America we live is exactly what it’s supposed to be.”