Interfaith crowd of 1,200 embraces unity at service

Gratitude and bridge building were the twin themes Tuesday as about 1,200 people of various faiths gathered to sing and pray to God and hear a parade of speakers counsel sensitivity to others’ needs.

Alluding to the racial tension in Ferguson, Mo., and inter-religious strife around the world, Imam John Ramadan told the packed sanctuary at The Park Church that “we should not let labels divide us. We are part of the same human family.”

Ramadan, the prayer leader at Masjid Ar-Razzaq in Charlotte, also chairs the board of Mecklenburg Ministries. The interfaith group of 100 or so member congregations sponsored this 39th annual citywide interfaith Thanksgiving service.

The night’s biggest applause and loudest cheers came for the interfaith youth choir, a multiracial group of kids who ended a medley with a soaring rendition of “We Shall Overcome” – the traditional anthem of the civil rights movement.

The sermon was delivered by a trio of female clergy: Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El, the Rev. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, M.D., of Novant Health, and the Rev. Christy Snow of the Spiritual Living Center of Charlotte.

Speaking about the many paradoxical sides of love – including the call to love the stranger even when he seems foreign – they quoted Gandhi and Jesus, Jewish and Muslim stories, the Bible and the movie “Frozen.” And they began and ended their remarks with a chant designed to encourage empathy and love: “See yourself in me; seek me in yourself.”

The service, which featured clergy of many faiths, opened with a prayer in Sanskrit by a Hindu priest. Translating into English was Thakor Topiwala of the Hindu Center of Charlotte, who greeted those in the pews with “Namaste,” which means “I bow to the divine in you.”

People brought canned goods for Loaves & Fishes, which feeds the hungry, and donated money to Crisis Assistance Ministry, which helps those in need pay their rent and utilities.