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Coming together, welcoming all: Interfaith gathering of healing, hope

On Monday, November 21, 2016, the 17th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, planned by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, will be at the Central Reformed Church.
2013 Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration at Temple Emanuel

2013 Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration at Temple Emanuel / Larry Barton

Underwriting support from:

Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration

The evening will feature various religious, spiritual, and secular reflections on the theme “Coming Together: Welcoming All,” including a keynote perspective from Faye Richardson-Green of Partners for a Racism-Free Community.


Coming Together: Welcoming All

Monday, November 21, 7 p.m.- 8:30 p.m.

Central Reformed Church, 10 College Ave NE, Grand Rapids MI 49503

Cost: Free

More information:














Smita Chandra of the West Michigan Hindu Temple

Smita Chandra of the West Michigan Hindu Temple / Larry Barton

Children of San Juan Diego Academy

Children of San Juan Diego Academy / Larry Barton

Every year in Grand Rapids, our interfaith community gathers at Thanksgiving time in a spirit of expressing gratitude and unity through our diversity. While a secular holiday, each tradition brings a rich perspective to the theme, which this year is “Coming Together: Welcoming All.”

In the last few years especially, there has been an increased urgency in the need for this space to come together, across our differences, to listen to each other, learn from one another, and heal our divisions.

Last year, our Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration was planned in the midst of a season where terrorism, violence and extremism were dominating the headlines, and subsequently Islamophobia and xenophobia spiked. This year, our gathering falls weeks after the U.S. presidential election, a campaign cycle which left our communities rife with discrimination and hate crimes, the highest amount since 9/11, according to reports

Again, just like last year, our gathering is happening in the context of a depressing reality where communities are continuously divided across lines based on ideology and identity. And unfortunately, one of these lines of division that is often drawn is based on religious identity and affiliation.

But the beauty of interfaith engagement – and particularly events such as the Thanksgiving Celebration – is that religion can instead be used as a force to unite communities and create belonging. This is done not by watering down our distinctions and looking for our lowest common denominator similarity, but is accomplished by delving deep into our varied traditions and enriching ourselves by celebrating our diverse traditions and beliefs.

In this “thick dialogue,” as we call it, we gather authentically and whole-fully, listening to the various ways we express one common idea. And in the process, we learn from one another and we heal the divisions that we are told exist between our traditions and communities.

With this year’s Interfaith Thanksgiving theme, the audience will hear songs, reflections, and prayers expressing why various religious, spiritual, and secular communities in Grand Rapids continuously come together, year after year, to promote collective dialogue and action.

Faye Richardson-Green, executive director of Partners for a Racism-Free Community, will share what this looks like in her anti-racism work. Children’s choirs from the Grand Rapids Buddhist Temple & Zen Center as well as the local Baha’i Community will sing songs of finding peace and unity. Recitations of the Qur’an, the Islamic holy text, will echo in the sanctuary from our local Imams, Muslim faith leaders. Jewish, atheist, and Hindu community members will share reflections on gratitude and inclusion. Psalms and chants from our Christian brothers and sisters will show the hope and joy we can find in coming together.

In a city like Grand Rapids, where faith and religiosity are strong cultural forces for community-building and philanthropy, we need to use this potential for good by promoting authentic dialogue rooted in deep values.

In a city like Grand Rapids, which is rich in often overlooked diversity of houses of worship – including mosques, temples, synagogues, and secular gathering spaces – we need to represent the thickness of our traditions while using it in ways to build togetherness and unity.

In a city like Grand Rapids, where we are small enough to be interconnected in a variety of ways, we need to meet our neighbors and prove the possibility of coming together to promote the common good.

To be a part of this effort and conversation, we warmly invite you to join our interfaith community for a night of reflection and celebration. By creating a space that promotes respect and understanding amidst our diversity, we aim to be the healing power that is needed during this challenging political moment. Walking away from a night of coming together and welcoming all will allow each one of us to be our own ripple of hope and sign of unity for each of our communities moving forward.

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