Thanksgiving in East Meadow is not only a time for families to gather for a festive meal, but also an opportunity for hundreds of members of different faiths to worship under one roof.
Each year, spiritual leaders from different houses of worship gather at a synagogue, church or mosque for a community-wide interfaith service organized by the East Meadow Clergy Association. St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church hosted the service last Sunday, and extended invitations to congregations in Wantagh and North Bellmore.
“In my humble opinion, one of the greatest gifts for which we should feel grateful is living in the United States of America,” said Rabbi Ronald Androphy, of the East Meadow Jewish Center, the keynote speaker. “In how many other countries could members of churches, synagogues and mosques all gather under one roof to celebrate like we are doing tonight? The answer is very few.”
The first interfaith service was held in 1982, organized by the late Rev. David Parker, pastor of the United Methodist Church of East Meadow. It has been held every year since during Thanksgiving week at a different place of worship, and a clergy member from a separate faith speaks to the diverse congregation.
The Rev. Robert Holz, of St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church, said he looked forward to the service every year, and “standing with other people of faith and acknowledging together a God who is both beyond us and with us.”
Androphy began with a parable about a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Asked to reveal his secret, the farmer said he gives his corn seeds to his neighbors. When they plant their own corn and add his seeds, the wind blows them across surrounding farms, and cross-pollination allows the original farm to keep growing award-winning corn. The theme was the importance of sharing ideas and culture, Androphy explained.
“It’s no secret that people are trying to destroy this by claiming that the U.S. belongs to one religion or one group of people,” he said. “Extremists distort the history of our country, undermine our values and pervert the American dream. We must remember that America belongs to all of us.”
Androphy also announced that he sought to bring back a program called Interfaith Evenings of Learning, which the East Meadow Clergy Association hasn’t organized in over a decade. In the program, clergy leaders choose a theme that is divided into sub-categories and explored over the course of several classes.
One year, the theme was contemporary social issues, and classes focused on abortion, capital punishment and homosexuality, among other hot-button topics. Another year, participants chose biblical passages and explored the similarities and differences between their interpretations by different creeds.
Two or three clergy members from different faiths taught each class. They usually began by explaining their religion’s stance on the topic, and opened the discussion up to questions. “It was educational, not confrontational,” Androphy added, “and people loved the programs.”
He said he planned to meet and discuss ideas with clergy members in January, and hoped to start the program by March. “I cannot guarantee that it will happen, but I certainly plan on trying,” he told the Herald the day after the service. “People mentioned to me on Sunday night that they were excited by the idea.”
Following the service, congregants were served coffee and snacks in a dining area in the basement of the church. Androphy urged attendees to mingle and introduce themselves to people whom they have not seen in their congregations. This, he said, “is just one small step toward building bridges of understanding.”
Androphy joined the East Meadow Jewish Center in 1983, a year after the interfaith service began, and said he has seen it develop into a community tradition that many look forward to throughout the year. The service was originally held the night before Thanksgiving, he said, but because residents were occupied with holiday preparations, officials moved it to the Sunday before the holiday, and participation nearly doubled. This year’s event drew roughly 200 people.
The participants included the Bellmore Presbyterian Church, Calvary Lutheran Church in East Meadow, Christ Lutheran Church in Wantagh, East Meadow United Methodist Church, the Long Island Muslim Society, St. Frances de Chantal in Wantagh, St. Francis Episcopal Church in Bellmore, St. Francis Polish National Church in East Meadow, St. John Lutheran Church in Bellmore, Temple Beth Tikvah in Wantagh, Temple B’nai Torah of Wantagh and the Wantagh Memorial Congregation Church.