By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Rich in gratitude, Belfast men, women and children gathered for the first annual Season of Gratitude dinner and time of sharing with each other.
We owe more to present-day Detroit than to long ago Pilgrims and Indians on Cape Cod. The story of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit is slowly becoming known here: how that diverse Detroit network formed the model, last year, of this year’s reformation of our Thanksgiving story and gathering.
In our town, we gathered at round tables and square tables and rectangular tables on the high school basketball court. We ate and we actually shared in facilitated conversations about what sparks our feelings of gratitude.
The biggest applause came when we reported feeling grateful for Belfast itself, our little “City of Compassion” on the shores of Penobscot Bay.
Our steering committee tried to reach out to the Native American people in our area. We were told that, in our region, our Native American neighbors find even the word “Thanksgiving” to be an unwelcome term. That’s part of the learning process as we all make room for the minority stories of other people’s experience. (If you doubt the healthy power of simply getting to know each other, read Joe Grimm’s story in ReadTheSpirit this week about his team of “Bias Busters.”)
Those of us in the mainline faith communities of Belfast, who helped to organize this event, also discovered that we are more isolated than we thought. We found it very hard to make contact with evangelical and conservative Christian groups.
Yet we were able to do what we came for—to learn about other people’s experiences and to be grateful together. I, for example, had a long conversation with a young man who was there helping as a part of his court-ordered community service. For him, this was a Thanksgiving “service” different from last year’s church service. He came to us through a very successful program called Re-Entry House. Restorative Justice is big here—group meetings to talk about the crime with the criminals and victims in order to reach understanding, healing and justice. Learning how to re-enter society with renewed mental health and community connections is one gift this man is grateful for.
I had on my suit jacket. He had his tattoos. We enjoyed meeting each other.
So also, it seems, did the Methodists, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Buddhists, the United Church of Christ people, the Unitarian-Universalists, the Episcopalians and the agnostics.
We had place mats with prayers for all of us printed—for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Native Americans. We also printed out Lincoln’s Proclamation. (Click on the image of Duncan’s earlier story to learn more about the Lincoln connection.)
When I introduced Lincoln’s words I was able to call attention to the fact that he called us not to houses of worship but to moments in time, for gratitude, for praise to the Almighty, and for humble penitence. He called us to do all of that—even if we were “sojourning in foreign lands” or among those “out at sea.”
Being a coastal town it struck our imagination to think of those at sea celebrating Thanksgiving, then, during the Civil War, and now. The Marine Maritime Academy is up the coast from us.
It took Lincoln’s contemporary, the magazine editor Sarah Hale, years to finally get the attention of our 16th president to institute a single national, one date, holiday.
It is still taking us a long time to become one nation. It will take a long time to change our national story from the temporary dream-peace of Pilgrims and Indians to a permanent peace of Shalom, in Belfast, in Detroit, in America, in the world.
You can see our first annual Season of Gratitude Pot Luck Dinner with local interviews in this video clip.