The Northeast Tennessee Chapter URI Cooperation Circle held their 16th Annual URI Interfaith Gratitude Dinner on November 7 in Johnson City, TN. The annual dinner is a potluck of cultural and ethnic foods, open to the public and to members of various faith traditions. Interfaith religious leaders offered prayers of gratitude for peacem, and offer blessings in a service of prayers that follows. This years was remarkable for its diversity.
The Tri-Cities Drummers enlivened spirits as guests arrived to their rhythms. Rev. Jacqueline Luck of Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church welcomed all, and Rebecca Nunley led a participatory chant of blessing and a welcoming Dance of Universal Peace.
We served ourselves to a delicious dinner after which Rotarian Ambassador of Peace, Kiran Sing Sirah, also director of the International Story Telling Center in Jonesborough, TN, spoke of stories as tools for international peacemaking. Inspiring!
After desert, the Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Peace began with First Presbyterian of Elizabethton's consulting minister, the Rev. Don Steele's genial humor and prayer, followed by an Islamic scripture and prayer from Ahmed Atyia of the Johnson City Islamic Community Center. Niki Rae Lucas represented her B'hai community in offering a prayer. Rev. Sergio Diaz-Ramos, Chaplain at the Johnson City Medical Center, offered an original Spanish teaching story and a prayer with his wife, Denise, translating his words.
Linda Goode offered the Buddhist blessing representing the Appalachian Dharma & Meditation Center, followed by Cherokee Nation member and ETSU student, Nicolas Squirrel, leading us in Calling the Directions. Rajkumar Sevak of the Regional Indian Community Center offered a Hindu reading and blessing, and the Rev. Vincent Dial of Bethel Christian Church sang a song of his enslaved ancestors and offered a prayer. Fr. Peter Iorio of St. Mary's Catholic Church shared words of Pope Francis in Washington, DC, and a prayer for peace. Rabbi Arthur Rutberg, B'nai Shalom Congregation, closed the offerings by sharing the Havadalah. Linda Sorrell, an original member of this Cooperation Circle led a unison reading of the Universal Prayer for Peace, and thanked all who had made this night possible.
Those of us present were moved by these invocations of the Holy in deeply-felt and richly-diverse traditions. Expressions of joy and gratitude to each other were in hearts and on our lips as we departed. And we are looked forward to November 29th, when the B'nai Shalom Congregation hosted the community for its first Interfaith Thanksgiving Service!
The spirit of interfaith cooperation and worship is vibrant in the hearts of many in Northeast Tennessee.