November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Ceremony brings faith communities together

Olympia Brown choir

If you're searching for a way to express gratitude this Thanksgiving, open your heart and wish others happiness.

Master Teachers Tony and Linda Somlai, of the Original Root Zen Center, offered that teaching Wednesday night during an ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve Ceremony at Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church.

The Rev. Tony Larsen, of Olympia Brown, welcomed the crowd of more than 100 by imploring people of different religions and faiths to find common ground.

"Our world today so needs people of different religions to come together," he said.

The 80-minute ceremony included singing, prayers and reflections from religious leaders of nine different faith communities in Racine. The Olympia Brown choir opened the singing with a lovely Native American song, "Ancient Mother."

Nabeeh Al-Amin

Nabeeh El Amin, of the Racine Islamic Center, then offered a beautiful prayer from the Qu'ran.

Linda Somlai, of ORZC, read a passage from the Dhammapada imploring all to be "spirits of light." Tony Somlai then taught the crowd how to do a Buddhist half bow, or "hapchong," and led the audience in wishing happiness to each other.

"If you open your heart, all you can do is wish people happiness," he said.

Master Teachers Linda and Tony Somlai

The Rev. Tony Larsen and the Rev. Ben Johnston-Krase

Larsen and the Rev. Ben Johnston-Krase, of First Presbyterian Church, which hosted the service last year, then led the audience in the hymn, "Gather Us In." Johnston-Krase would later lead the hymn, "Giving to Life," and offered this teaching on giving thanks: "Gratitude is not something you feel. Gratitude is a practice," he said.

John Brosseau

John Brosseau, of Beth Israel Sinai Congregation, read from Genesis 7:2 and then introduced the theme for the evening, "hidden treasures."

Ann Pratt at the podium

Ann Pratt, of the Racine Dominicans' HOPES Center, led the organization in a "Harvest Prayer." The well-written prayer used a vegetable and gardening theme to give thanks for friendship.

Joyce Gregg

Joyce Gregg, of the Evangelical United Methodist Church, read scripture from Matthew 6:19-21 and 13:44-45.

The Rev. Liz Simmons

The Rev. Liz Simmons, of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, shared a personal story about finding "hidden treasures" in difficult times. She was laid off from her job - she called it "getting fired by God" - and spent five months wondering where he life would take her. But her congregation collected money for her, three people offered her a place to stay and eventually she found her way to her new congregation at St. Luke's in Racine.

"We don't always know what hidden treasures are in the tragedies of our life," Simmons said.

The Rev. Brad Van Fossen

The Rev. Brad Van Fossen, of First United Methodist Church, offered a similar reflection on "hidden treasures," asking if we can find hope in suffering. He then quoted author Parker Palmer, in asking if we had the "courage to stand with each other in a simple and healing way."

The feel of the evening was light and open. The audience learned how to clap in sign language - you lift both hands above your head and twist them in a waiving motion - and laughed heartily throughout the evening. Afterward, many people stayed for pie.

The beautiful stained glass windows at Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in Downtown Racine.


  1. It is lovely to see so many churches and their members come together in celebration.

    I am thankful for their spirit of cooperation and respect. Racine is lucky to have all of you!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Every 5th Sunday a diverse group of churches and believers gathers to pray for our community. It's been going on for years.

  3. 7:04 - a lot of good it has done - NOT. Maybe you should try and actually getting out into the community and do something of value and constructive.

  4. Not only the seed of religious tolerance, but religious/spiritual unity is necessary for this planet to end dysfunction. This is what we need to do to water that seed-come together not as lutherans, catholics, buddhists, Islamic etc but as one.

  5. 9:02 - good luck, nothing positive has come out of it so far.