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Tradition fosters interfaith fellowship

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — The 22nd annual San Dieguito Interfaith Ministerial Association’s Thanksgiving Eve service celebrated the “Golden Rule” as practiced in many faiths. Despite the hardships faced by so many, religious leaders encouraged the crowd to be thankful in the face of loss and to share the blessings bestowed upon them.
Reverend Laura Ziehl, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Encinitas, gave the audience a hopeful lesson during the children’s message. “Blessing is the capacity to know joy in the hard times,” she said. “Blessing is the gift to bless others.” She urged attendees to “give yourself away for others.” Ziehl put the words into action as the children gathered at the stage held onto pennies she gave them.
When a girl pretended to fall and needed help, other children who volunteered to hold balloons, symbolizing their blessings, tried to help but couldn’t until they gave away their balloons. “I learned that helping someone else is impossible if you are holding onto your money or any kind of blessing,” said Cherise Suracozi, 10.
This year also marked the 25th anniversary of the interfaith group’s beginning. Two of the founders, Pastor Bill Harman and Rabbi Lenore Bohm, recalled the early days of the group and the search to find common ground among faith-based organizations.
Harman, who now serves as the director of development at the Grauer School, said the establishment of such a group was integral to becoming an “open, welcoming, accepting,” community.
“This is a process of dialogue to increase understanding,” he said. “We can move beyond tolerance and into nurturing compassion.”
The secular holiday was given the element of fellowship as a few hundred people gathered to sing songs and participate in a multidenominational service Nov. 24 at Seaside Center for Spiritual Living.
The audience was filled with religious leaders representing Christianity, New Thought, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Self-Realization Fellowship, Baha’i, Hinduism, Mormonism and Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Several read their faith’s version of the “Golden Rule” to the audience. Stripped of their religious verbiage, the decrees were indistinguishable.
“It is amazing to have all of these people of different religions and backgrounds together for one purpose,” Lara McConnell said. The Encinitas resident said she doesn’t prescribe to any particular religion. “I bring my family to experience the traditions of all faiths on a holiday that we all share,” she said.
Some attendees could relate to the message of remaining thankful and sharing even in times of personal loss. “This has been a very hard year financially and health-wise for our family and many of our friends,” Penny Spencer-Purcell said. “There is something comforting about knowing that you aren’t the only one and that other people need even more help,” she said. “A service like this reminds you how much you have, how thankful we are just to be alive.”