Rabbi Robert Leib was preparing his welcoming remarks for Abington Ministerium’s 67th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service as he reflected on its long history.
The service, held this year at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am on Nov. 21, was the creation of Leib’s predecessor, Rabbi Harold Waintrup, and the then-senior pastor at Abington Presbyterian Church, Rev. John Magill.
“It was really their desire, their brainchild, and look what’s happened,” Leib remarked. “I don’t think there’s ever been a break. It’s been 67 years.”
This year’s service featured even more guests from Abington Baptist Church, Abington Presbyterian Church, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Our Lady Help of Christians Roman Catholic Church.
Guests were encouraged to bring monetary contributions, as well as canned nonperishable goods to be donated to the Interfaith Food Cupboard housed at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Abington.
There were choral performances — including a Hebrew rendition of “Sim Shalom” by both the synagogue and church choirs together — Festive Ringers Bell Choir from Abington Presbyterian Church, combined children’s choir from Abington Presbyterian Church and Temple Beth Am, along with adult choirs from both the church and the synagogue.
And, of course, refreshments.
The “magnificent” bell choir performance was one Leib was particularly excited about.
“They always look forward to the blowing of the shofar,” he noted of the churches, so they had a congregant blow the shofar at the beginning and end of the service. “As much as they look forward to the shofar, we Jews look forward to the bell choir.”
Each year, Leib looks forward to “the friendship, the warmth, the collegiality, Abington Township residents coming together in song and in praise.”
And for the 2017 service in particular, as much as you try to avoid political talk at the Thanksgiving table, the events that have transpired in the past year have created a unique urgency for the event.
“What makes this year’s service different is the fact that just by virtue of what’s happened in our national life this past year with so much dissention and with so much acrimony and divisiveness,” Leib said, “there’s a need for us all to come together. So we are hoping that this year’s Thanksgiving service will express the urgent and critical and timely need to emphasize that which unites us as opposed to that which divides us.”
Rev. Dr. Kirby Lawrence Hill of Abington Presbyterian Church echoed that sentiment.
Having just moved to the area six months ago after leading a church in Silver Spring, Md. Lawrence Hill said that while Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily have to be an interfaith experience, its message is particularly impactful this year.
“With various forces within our society and world that seem to be splitting people of various faiths apart from each other, it is a wonderful occasion to come together across those various denominational lines and show that we are unified and hold each other with respect and value,” he said.
He gave the keynote remarks during the service this year — “The new guy on the block gets asked to preach,” he laughed — which he titled “No Fakesgiving.”
“It’s a time to explore how to not just go through the motions in terms of expressing gratitude unto God,” he explained.
For him, meeting with various clergy from congregations in the township throughout the year as part of the Abington Ministerium has been a valuable chance to meet others in the community and strengthen their relationships.
But the Thanksgiving service stands out as an opportunity to gather all together.
“It’s a great joy when various congregations across the community come together,” Lawrence Hill said. “We meet people of goodwill and of various faith traditions throughout the community and can build relationships, and that’s a great joy.”