On Thursday, Nov. 20, a wide variety of students and faculty members of diverse ethnicities and faiths gathered in Gasson’s Irish Hall to participate in Boston College’s yearly Multifaith Thanksgiving celebration.
Since its inception, the event has been sponsored by Campus Ministry, with specific organization under the direction of Rev. Howard McLendon, Multifaith Campus Minister. Although McLendon is primarily responsible for the organization of the event, he is quick to give credit to the former Vice President of Mission and Ministries, Rev. Joseph Appleyard, S.J., for the idea of the event itself.
“Appleyard believed it would be a good idea to have an interfaith Thanksgiving service because it’s a civil holiday, and he thought it would be a good opportunity to gather the community together,” McLendon said. “That’s what he asked me to do, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
The idea for the event was brought up in 2006, and has been an annual part of the BC Thanksgiving celebration ever since.
While Thanksgiving is not specifically a religious holiday, many people choose to express their gratitude through their faiths and religious practices. BC is ready and willing to help people of all faiths do so.
“I think for most people, religion, in some form and to varying degrees, is a part of their lives,” McLendon said. “Even though Thanksgiving is considered a secular holiday, in varying families around the globe, especially as they are integrated into American society, Thanksgiving takes on its own flavor. People give thanks in whichever way they choose.”
The Multifaith Thanksgiving celebration is intended to reflect such ideas. It is meant to give people of diverse faiths and backgrounds the opportunity to celebrate and express gratitude, while also bringing together distinct individuals with common values.
Although BC is a predominantly Catholic campus, the event strove to demonstrate appreciation and hospitality for students and faculty who practice a diverse array of faiths.
The ceremony included traditional Christian and Islamic songs, featuring music from the Middle Eastern-influenced Noor Ensemble, as well as the Liturgy Arts Group and the School of Theology and Ministry’s liturgical choir.
The ceremony incorporated both Judeo-Christian and Buddhist reading selections, and it gave representatives from multiple faiths the chance to bless the bread offering.
“We have religious student organizations that are recognized by Campus Ministry. It is from among these interfaith groups that we find participants. They all work with us to bring the program together. We try to represent all of the world religions on campus. That’s our marketplace,” McLendon said regarding the participation selection process.
The event succeeded in showcasing the true diversity of BC, with participation from a wide variety of student groups, including the Asian Christian Fellowship, the Buddhism Club, the Muslim Students Association, Hillel, and the Multi-Cultural Christian Fellowship.
Beyond acting as an opportunity for uniting the faiths of BC, Multifaith Thanksgiving is also a charitable event.
One of the charities which the event supported was Spread the Bread, an organization that is “a global grassroots bread-spreading initiative that encourages people to bake or buy a favorite bread, wrap it with a note of hope, inspiration or gratitude and offer that bread to honor a hero or help someone in need,” according to its website.
This is not the first year that Campus Ministries has teamed up with the organization for Multifaith Thanksgiving.
“Spread the Bread is a group we’ve had a historic relationship with,” McLendon said. “Karen Keiffer, who is the head of Spread the Bread, is also the assistant director of Church in the 21st Century here at Boston College.” At the event, the bread donations from attendees were able to fill four large baskets that would be sent to Combined Catholic Charities.
The organizers of the interfaith ceremony also looked for a second charity to benefit from the generosity of event attendees.
“We were looking for an organization that was interfaith, and that would help all of the faiths, versus something like Combined Catholic Charities or Combined Jewish Philanthropies,” McLendon said. “We looked for an organization first, and then we found the cause in the Ebola-related hunger in West Africa.”
Currently, the UN World Food Programme (WPF) is carrying out an initiative to assist victims of Ebola related hunger in the countries of West Africa, especially Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
According to its website, “The spread of Ebola is disrupting farming and markets. Many families have seen their incomes and livelihoods affected. That’s why food assistance is needed. WPF is working to prevent this health crisis from becoming a food and nutrition crisis.”
Since April, WPF has distributed food to more than 1.5 million victims of Ebola related hunger. At the Multifath Thanksgiving celebration, Campus Ministries successfully raised $600 to contribute to the WPF’s efforts to combat the crisis.
McLendon said he considered this year’s event to be a success. He noted that to have an event like Multifaith Thanksgiving at an institution with a specific religious identity is a rare occurrence.
“The fact that such events take place on campus and are so well attended shows how important hospitality is to BC,” McLendon said. “I think some substantial opportunities were present in the room to cause people to function or respond in a different way. The whole concept of you there having stepped out of your comfort zone is a good place to be. That is one of the reasons for the success of the event. Sometimes people come and feel stretched, and we hope they feel stretched. We try to challenge and touch, that’s my motto.”
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff