Editor’s note: The Rev. Randall Day of St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church and Rabbi Deborah Lewis of the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community spoke to the News-Press in advance of Tuesday night’s Santa Ynez Valley Interfaith Thanksgiving Service about the importance of the community coming together. The News-Press notified the community about the service in a previous story.
The Santa Ynez Valley Interfaith Thanksgiving Service celebrated the community and its diversity Tuesday night in Los Olivos.
The service scheduled for last night was sponsored by the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community, Bethania Lutheran Church and St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, where the service took place.
Other sponsors included Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist representatives, as well as those of other faiths.
“This interfaith Thanksgiving service is gathering with friends and neighbors — people I care about and love. So it’s just responding to the natural inclination of what anyone does on Thanksgiving,” the Rev. Randall Day of St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Church told the News-Press in an email before the service.
“And, not surprisingly, my friends are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Baháʼí as well as Christian.
“For the community, an interfaith Thanksgiving service strengthens our unity, as people come together in a mutual experience of giving thanks. We see how offering thanks looks quite similar from all faith perspectives,” he said.
Another faith representative agreed.
“Interfaith Thanksgiving brings us together around the feeling of gratitude, and that is a current that runs through all religious faith traditions. I love that we can get together and give thanks for the community and the things that we have been given,” Rabbi Deborah Lewis of the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community told the News-Press in an email.
Added Rev. Day, “The importance of an interfaith service in our local community in the Santa Ynez Valley is it helps all of us realize that the Santa Ynez Valley is a highly diverse place. It’s crucial to be conscious of the reality that there are all sorts of diversity represented in our community.
“Whether the diversity is race or gender expression or religious diversity, all are helped by discovering that there is a lot of difference among the individual residents of the Santa Ynez Valley. This wide range of human identity and expression is part of what makes the Santa Ynez Valley wonderful and strong. Real unity is an embrace of difference,” the Rev. Day said.
“I’m always struck by the value of offering thanks — of shifting my perspective onto gratitude and the transformative experience of being thankful,” Rev. Day continued. “There is so much distraction, so much anxiety and uncertainty, so much grief and loss both personally and culturally. Without denying any of that, being thankful for one another, whatever our backgrounds, and being intent on giving thanks opens a space of hope, of possibility, space for a future we can shape together.”
Rabbi Lewis said, “It has been a difficult last 20 months and counting. We have come together as a community to serve those that have been the hardest hit, as usual, the ones that are least able to recover from the devastating losses both physical, emotional and financial.
“This pandemic has really boiled it all down to humanity caring for each other in so many ways, feeding those that are hungry like Bethania Lutheran and the Solvang Senior Center have been doing. Getting vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID, helping those that were already on the margins make their way through this,” said Rabbi Lewis.
Noted the Rev. Day, “The idea that we are somehow competitors is very small-minded and damages our community as it really is. Also, my perspective grows in hearing the particular way one group or another says what is a common experience for all of us. In a sense, I become a larger person. As a community, we become both higher and deeper spiritually and broader socially and culturally.”
Said Rabbi Lewis, “There is so much suffering, and I am happy to be able to come together and provide support for each other, across what may seem like a divide but really is not.
“We are each made in the image of God and when we look at each other and remember that, we are united. I am looking forward to coming together with our faith communities and reconnecting. We are always stronger together.”