Fort Bend Interfaith Community Hosts Annual Thanksgiving Services

By Juhi Varma

SUGAR LAND: Despite gloomy weather, warmth prevailed inside the expansive, wood-paneled hall of St. Laurence Catholic Church on Monday night in Sugar Land, where members of Fort Bend County’s many religious communities gathered in love and friendship for an interfaith Thanksgiving service.

“The last one we did was in November of 2019, and we had no idea what was coming three months later,” said St. Laurence’s pastor, the Rev. Drew Wood, as he recalled the hardships that would come with the pandemic. “It’s been painful and very rough on all of us. But it’s three years later and we’re still here; so we have a lot to give thanks for.  If you listen to the media, you’ll think there are not many of us who aren’t angry all the time. But I’m not angry, and I don’t think you are, either.”

The first Fort Bend Interfaith Thanksgiving service took place eight years ago. In 2020 and 2021, the event was moved online.

Around 200 people, representing various ages, faiths and backgrounds were present.  The program included prayers from different faiths and denominations interspersed with reflections about the importance of giving.

“We adhere to a centuries-old tradition of Shia values that are expressed through a commitment to a search for knowledge and betterment of society,” said Murad Ajani, president of the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States.  “These include embracing pluralism by building bridges of peace and understanding and generously sharing one’s time, talents and material resources to improve the quality of life of the community.”

The official symbol of Unitarian Universalism is a flaming chalice. Betty Johnson, representing the Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Bend, offered the following prayer after lighting a chalice.

“We are people of all ages, who enter this space bringing our joys and concerns. … We light a chalice to symbolize our interdependence and our unity. We mourn and celebrate. We strive for justice and mercy. We sing and pray and listen. We come together to worship.”

Members of Fort Bend’s Sikh community sang a Punjabi hymn from Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhism is amongst the youngest of the major world religions. It developed around 500 years ago in India, from the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak.

Fort Bend’s Baháʼí community was represented by Ghazaleh Ranjbar from the Baháʼí Faith of Sugar Land and Fort Bend. She shared an extract from the writings of Abdu’l Baha, eldest son of the religion’s founder, Baháʼu’lláh.

“A man must observe and see what is the will of God and act accordingly… Consider how grateful anyone becomes when healed from sickness when treated kindly by another or when a service is rendered by another even though it may be of the least consequence. Physically and spiritually, we are submerged in a sea of God’s favor. He has provided our food, drink, and other requirements.”

The Baháʼí Faith, which teaches unity and essential worth of all religions, was established in the 19th century in Iran and parts of the Middle East.

“Thanksgiving is one of the main attributes in the life of the believer in Jesus Christ,” said Lela Burgess from the Horizon Baptist Church. “’Thank you’ is our password to God’s presence and it’s the key that unlocks miracles. The Bible tells us that whenever we come before God, whatever our purpose or our prayer request, we are always to come with a thankful heart. I only have one regret that it took me so long to learn to be thankful.”

Cantor Renee Waghalter and Jan Poscov from Congregation Beth El shared a prayer for the community written by Rabbi Richard Levy.

“May we gain wisdom in our lives, overflowing like a river with understanding. May our deeds exceed our speech; may we never lift up our hand but to conquer fear and doubt and despair, rise up like Son of God, over all humanity, cause light to go forth over all the lands between the seas in light of the universe with joy, freedom and peace.”

One of the world’s oldest religions, Jainism, was represented by the JBB Jain Society of Houston.  Jains are devout vegetarians and pacifists, often covering their face with a cloth mask to avoid inhaling tiny insects.

Practitioners from the Universal Door Meditation Center in Sugar Land illustrated their message with the clear water demonstration, emphasizing that humans are all pure, clear water muddied by worldly desires and influences.

Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH) performed a short play explaining the lives of Hindu gods Ram and Krishna.

“It’s my job to make everybody else attend,” said Vijay Pollod from HGH, one of the organizers. “We reached out to Buddhist and Jain communities and encouraged them to come. The turnout has been great this year.” — The Houston Chronicile