Before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with their own families on Thursday, dozens gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady (UUSS) on Wendell Avenue for a couple of hours Sunday evening to participate in a special interfaith prayer service and potluck dinner.
Cohosted by UUSS and Schenectady Clergy Against Hate (SCAH), the third annual event was designed to be family-friendly gathering for people of all faiths, denominations, beliefs, orientations and genders.
Rev. Wendy Bartel and Rev. Lynn Gardner, both of UUSS, welcomed the participants from religious groups all over Schenectady and thanked them for being willing to expand their Thanksgiving celebrations into something more diverse and interconnected.
One of the key takeaways from the service, according to Bartel, was to acknowledge that every person, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or political orientation, had the right to be protected from hatred, violence and discrimination.
"This is a chance to create a collective liberation," she said to the gathered audience, which featured members of more than 20 different denominations, including Christian, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
After the introduction, religious leaders from various congregations around the county had the chance to lead the group in a prayer, relay a message to them, or simply explain what, in their own faith, the concept of interfaith and acceptance meant.
Rabbi Matthew Cutler, the senior rabbi at the Congregation Gates of Heaven Synagogue in Schenectady who was instrumental in forming SCAH back in 2016, was among the religious leaders who spoke during Sunday's service.
He added that Sunday's service stood as more than just a response to atrocities, using last year's mass shooting at a Pennsylvania synagogue as an example.
"We seek to foster an understanding of one another," he said, holding his arms out to the listening crowd.
Other themes included forgiveness and an acknowledgement of either one's own or someone else's struggle. At one point during the service, attendees were encouraged to write down "something that they had lamented," whether it be a personal issue or a larger world issue.
Then, faith leaders would collect the papers and place them in water to be dissolved, and, metaphorically, soothed away.
After the service, faith leaders also told gathered worshipers that they would be accepting donations for Concerned For The Hungry, an entirely volunteer organization working to fight hunger in Schenectady County.
During her address, Rev. Sara Baron of the First United Methodist Church in Schenectady, urged those gathered to take direct action in practicing interfaith acceptance by simply introducing themselves to the person sitting next to them during the service.
"I'm going to invite you to talk to your neighbor and tell them three things that you're thankful for," she said. "Because this is the work of a whole body."