Austin American Statesman Article about the AAIM Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration!

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Different faiths gather to mark annual interfaith celebration
More than a dozen religions gathered, performed and feasted at
25th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and Celebration
hosted by Austin Area Interreligious Ministries.

By Isadora Vail

Monday, November 23, 2009

This wasn’t a typical church service.

The 25th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and Celebration on Sunday began with a Muslim chant and the blowing of a ram’s horn from the second floor of the First Baptist Church of Austin. Dancers leading a procession wore bright purple dresses, green-and-white robes, Wiccan symbols, crosses, hijabs and yarmulkes.

“God planted different colors of flowers around the Earth, just like different colors of men,” said Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami, a Pakistani musician who played the sitar and sang as part of the celebration. “Today’s celebration is about love and peace,” he said.

Nizami, who taught last year at the University of Texas through a Fulbright scholarship, and about 900 other people attended the event. Organizers said the celebration included the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Baha’i and Covenant of the Goddess faiths. Celebrants of more than a dozen religions sang and played African drums, guitars and pipe organs.

The service is aimed at connecting different religions for a big Thanksgiving ceremony and dinner. The Austin Area Interreligious Ministries organizes the service every year.

“We are all standing in the shadow of what happened at Fort Hood,” said Tom Spencer, who heads the Interreligious Ministries. “Today is about sustaining relationships with different religions, and we want to challenge the people of this city to help us do just that.”

Spencer said the celebration of Thanksgiving has come a long way in the past 25 years, including overcoming a controversy in 2007 in which the Hyde Park Baptist Church refused to welcome non-Christian religions in the church. That year, the ceremony was moved at the last minute to another location.

Austin is increasingly diverse, and it is necessary to celebrate days like Thanksgiving with other religions, Spencer said.

Ziad Al Anbaki, an Iraqi refugee who attended the event with his family, said he came to the United States about seven months ago. Anbaki spoke little English but said he was happy to be in the church with many different people.

For Jessica Schumacher, who sang with St. John’s United Methodist Church-Austin, she was intrigued by the different styles of worship she saw.

“I didn’t know too much about the celebration, but it was such a neat opportunity,” Schumacher said. “Normally, I wouldn’t see anything like this, so I’m really glad we came.”

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