People of various faiths and congregations gathered at ArtsAltoona Sanctuary for the 91st Annual Interfaith Service of Thanksgiving hosted by the Sixth Ward Ministries on Thursday evening.
About 30 people attended the service, which included prayers, stories and musical selections from participating congregations. The purpose of the event is to give thanks from the perspective of a variety of beliefs, depending on the service program.
“It’s really important to include voices from across the spectrum of various faith traditions,” Rabbi Audrey R. Korotkin, one of the service organizers, said. “We give people a whole range of opportunities to share.”
The service theme was “Journey of Gratitude” which Korotkin, of Temple Beth Israel in Altoona, described as an opportunity to enjoy the blessings of life and the responsibility of participants to share that gratitude.
Bishop Michael Becker of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Lakemont, shared an opening statement on the theme, which moved through concentric circles of gratitude that extended outward.
“These are the ways we are most grateful to our God for how he has blessed us,” Becker said.
The program moved through the circles with readings and prayers from each of the congregation’s leaders. Musical interludes were led by singer Dorothy Liller and pianist Earla Reffner.
An offering prayer was recited by Amani Money Brown, the great-granddaughter of one of the participating leaders, evangelist Patricia Curry of The Voice Church. The voluntary offering will be donated to Family Services Inc. of Altoona, which offers several shelters, victim support and counseling.
“It just seemed like a logical place,” said ArtsAltoona Board Chair Donna Gority. “They do a lot of good things for the community.”
Gority helped organize the service, which is usually held each year at a different participating church or temple. The ArtsAltoona shrine was chosen after another location was unavailable.
The service has been held several times at the Sanctuary when it was known as Simpson-Temple United Parish, but this is its first year since ArtsAltoona donated the building in January 2020.
It is also the first time the service has been held in a space that is no longer a place of worship. Korotkin said the space, still named The Sanctuary, remains special for attendees.
“It’s a very familiar space for us and an important space for us,” said Korotkin. “It’s still the shrine and it holds a lot of memories for people.”
One participant, Deborah Aigner, has been following the Thanksgiving program for about 20 years and said she enjoys seeing different places of worship each year.
“It’s a wonderful way to celebrate Thanksgiving,” said Aigner. “And I think this year I have a lot to be thankful for.”
The interfaith Thanksgiving service is one of the oldest of its kind in the country. It was first held by Temple Beth Israel on Thanksgiving Day in 1931. According to the service schedule, more than 400 people attended this first service convened by Sixth Ward Ministries.
The service has grown to include other faiths over the years, including Buddhist, Baha’i and Muslim communities in 2019.
“We have extended the invitation to both clergy and anyone who wants to come,” said Korotkin. “It’s a sacred space, but it’s also a community space.
Father Lubomir J. Strecok of Sacred Heart Church in Altoona said he was grateful to see the in-person service again, as it was canceled or hosted online during the pandemic. He stressed the importance of tradition and his appreciation for the inclusion of all faiths in this year’s theme.
“It’s a journey of gratitude, and it’s something everyone can relate to,” Streck said. “We are all on this journey of life.”
Participating congregations this year included Temple Beth Israel; St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church; Bethany Lutheran Church, Altoona; The Church of the Voice; Juniata United Methodist Church, Altoona; Baha’i Community, Altoona; Agudath Achim Congregation, Altoona; Mount Zion Lutheran Church, Breezewood; First Presbyterian Church of Tyrone; and the Church of the Sacred Heart.
Mirror Staff Writer Linden Markley is at 814-946-7520.