More than 200 people who came together Wednesday night in St. Joseph Church heard Thanksgiving messages told through stories of the Buddha, Jesus Christ and Allah.
The city clergy’s traditional interfaith service featured speakers representing Catholicism, several Protestant denominations, Judaism, Islam and the B’hai faith.
“We celebrate freedom of religions,” said the Rev. Michael Dolan, representing the Hartford archdiocese. “We become better believers because of the faiths of others.”
After two weeks of controversy in Bristol over a planned presentation about Islam at a public school, local clergy was eager for the annual service that centers on gratitude, harmony and the shared beliefs of many faiths.
“Our only purpose for being here tonight is to celebrate diversity. We are all grateful in our own way,” said the Rev. Ivan Ramirez, who is in his first year as pastor at St. Joseph.
“We are all here tonight to give thanks as our forefathers did long ago,” said Mohammed Aziz, a lay speaker representing the Bangladeshi Muslim community. “Dear God, do not allow us to be corrupted by fear. May we temper justice with love.”
A choir of children from several religions performed “Sing a Song of Praise.” A thread through each of the readings and prayers was gratitude.
“We thank God for yesterday, for today and for tomorrow. Tomorrow we can make the world a better place,” said the Rev. Irene Singleton of the Tower of Hope church, a nondemoninational Christian church in the city’s Forestville section.
Laura Minor, representing the Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation of Southington, urged listeners to recognize the rich beauty and goodness in the world.
In her prayer, Fatma Antar, a longtime Bristol resident, intoned “God, bless and guide our community … unite our community.”
Karen Anderson, representing the Plainville-based B’hai community, said the theme of Thanksgiving is shared by all who live in gratitude.
“If you want to find joy, you must first find thankfulness,” she said. “The instant you begin to thank God, even if your circumstances are the same, you begin to change. The best way to thank God is to love on another.”
There were no direct references to the conflict that arose when a Northeast Middle School teacher invited a Muslim woman to talk about her faith — and misconceptions about it — to a world religions class. A number of parents and residents complained, and the school system canceled the session after saying the teacher felt threatened by several angry emails and calls.
School Superintendent Susan Moreau issued a statement during the week saying she made the decision in the best interest of students, but acknowledged that it may have sent the wrong message.
“In no way was the cancellation pointed at the Islamic faith. However, some may have interpreted it as such. We have learned from this experience,” she wrote.
Dolan called on listeners Wednesday night to be “witnesses aspiring for peace.” He encouraged the audience to welcome the prayers of others regardless of their religion.