The Chernobyler: food for spiritual life
Blessing for Thanksgiving

Interfaith Thanksgiving in Austin

Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, the city's largest interfaith organization, announced Thursday that its annual Thanksgiving celebration Sunday had to be moved because Hyde Park Baptist Church objected to non-Christians worshipping on its property.

(-- Church rejects interfaith service on its property, Austin-American Statesman)

Boy: that's the kind of lede that makes me cringe. And in my former home state, no less.

Austin Area Interreligious Ministries sounds like exactly the kind of organization I'd be involved with if I lived in that neck of the woods. "AAIM envisions a respectful, caring and inclusive community where people of diverse cultures and religions are actively involved in enhancing the quality of life in the Austin area," their website explains, and "AAIM unites faith and cultural communities to foster respect, partnership and transformation in service of the common good."

For the last 22 years, AAIM has held an annual Thanksgiving service attended by over 1000 people. The sacred obligation of hosting the event rotates each year, and this year the Central Texas Muslimaat was slated to host. Since none of the local Muslim community spaces are large enough to hold 1000+ people, they arranged to rent space from Hyde Park Baptist Church...until the folks at Hyde Park realized that this Thanksgiving service would involve ecumenical worship, and yanked the proverbial rug out from under the AAIM three days before the event.

It's not my place to criticize members of other religious traditions for living out their faith as they understand themselves to be called to do, but this story saddens me profoundly, as stories of religious insularity always do.

There's a happy ending to this particular tale, though. Congregation Beth Israel, "the oldest and largest Jewish congregation in Austin," rise to the occasion and offered their building as a home for the Muslim-hosted AAIR Thanksgiving supper and service this year. Evidently CBI's immediate response was "It's an honor to be able to provide the space, especially knowing our co-hosts are Muslims," and they immediately offered to arrange space for Muslim evening prayer. (In Jewish tradition we pray thrice daily, rather than five times, but the practice of offering regular evening prayer is a place of common ground.)

The service was held yesterday, and it sounds like it was wonderful. (The Statesman has an article about that, too: Interfaith Thanksgiving service hosted by Muslims at Beth Israel.)

I am grateful to CBI for stepping up and doing the right thing, and glad to know that despite this hurdle it was possible for hundreds of south Texans to gather in a spirit of reverence, community, and gratitude to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Guess it's just one more thing to be grateful for this week.

Technorati tags: , , .