Holiday service explores the spirit of giving

In its 24th annual display of holiday cheer, the Ashland Interfaith Thanksgiving Service this year will explore how various religions teach people to give to the community as a whole.

The popular event begins at 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day at Wesley Hall behind First United Methodist Church, Laurel and North Main streets. The service will feature representatives from Taoist, American Indian, Jewish, Druid, Muslim, Science of Mind and other traditions.

The event will include brief sermons, music and dance, all offered in a spirit of gratitude and reflecting on the challenges of world events.

From the Unitarian-Universalist tradition, minister Heather Lynn Hanson will sing that "all life is a gift that we are called to use to serve the common good," she says.

She says national and international conflicts have made this a challenging year, one that calls on people to "seek nonviolent ways as alternatives to conflict "¦ as we move back into a more trusting and compassionate relationship with one another."

Taoist, musician and tai chi teacher Gene Burnett will honor his faith's way of "maintaining balance, like a surfer, and letting the waves go where they will," a mode of living that uses less force and ends up connecting people with community, he says.

Noting a resurgence in population and spiritual practices among American Indians, Coyote Marie Hunter-Ripper, a Cherokee, says Thanksgiving is a time to honor ancestors, each other and the land.

She also said that it's important to remember that it's not just the American Indians, but all people who have metaphorically walked the Trail of Tears after losing the indigenous culture, medical practices and community of American Indian culture.

"Thanksgiving is a way of education out in the broader community "¦ that we're still here," she says. "We haven't disappeared. We're not relics or stereotypes in a Hollywood movie. We've been here 15,000 years, since the beginning, and we remember it and dream it back into being."

Representing the "unaffiliated," who often call themselves "spiritual, not religious," Elizabeth Austin says her group is the largest religion in the country but faces challenges in giving to the community because it lacks formal organization.

"Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, especially now, when life has so many complexities," says Austin. "We reflect on what might be and look over the previous year on what we envisioned and created — and how we want to change that. I really believe what we do makes a difference. Being happy and helping people are good things that reconnect us to community."

Longtime event organizer Robin Noll, a Hindu, said people of her faith "do what they can but are not responsible for the outcome "¦ you're entitled to the effort, but not the fruits of the effort, but that doesn't make you less responsible for the effort."

The service is hosted by the Rev. Thomas Myers of the First United Methodist Church. Admission is free.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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