If a Pacific Palisades resident ever doubted that he/she lived in a unique environment, only one question needs to be asked: “In what other community in the United States would all the clergy gather to celebrate an interfaith Thanksgiving service?”
Annually for decades, Palisades clergy have been meeting, planning and participating in a service that brings the community together on the Monday night before Thanksgiving.
This year almost 400 residents attended the service at Corpus Christi Church. Each year the service is held at a different location, rotating between various churches and synagogues, and the clergy decide the format.
“What a blessing and joy it is to be here tonight,” Corpus Christi Monseigneur Liam Kidney said. “As we begin this service, we are truly blessed.”
The opening prayer was led by St. Matthew’s Reverend Bruce Freeman, who joked that “as usual I have to follow the Father.” In his prayer, he asked that the Lord “weave us into a community and bless our differences.”
Then members from each of the eight congregations offered a song. First was Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and his wife, Didi (Kehillat Israel), who sang “God’s Spirit.” The refrain was “Every morning, every evening, everyone can see, every miracle in me.”
Rabbi Amy Bernstein (KI) said, “There’s a place of purity in each one of us; a divine spark in each of us. . .” and told the Old Testament story (Exodus 3: 1-3), in which Moses sees that through the bush is on fire it does not burn up.
“No matter what burns, what is taken, we will not be consumed,” said the rabbi, who then noted how the lives of firefighters are centered around fire and danger. “When things are on fire, they risk their lives rushing into it.”
Berstein said, “Bless Mark and all his comrades.” Fire Station 69 member Mark Samama was selected by Stations 23 and 69 to represent the town’s firefighters, who have battled brushfires in and close to Pacific Palisades this year.
The eight participating clergy laid hands on Samama and said, “Blessed ‘Mark.’”
Samama, who grew up in the Palisades, was asked afterwards about the blessing. “It was amazing,” he said. “I was in awe.”
Selected by Station 69 to be its representative, Samama said, “was a great honor,” especially since Corpus is his home church.
Corpus Christi vocalists sang “Where Charity and Love Prevail,” and then Palisades Presbyterian’s Anthony Wamble and Danielle Vallandigham sang “Blessed Be Your Name.”
Brother Satyananda of the Self-Realization Fellowship led the audience in a devotional chant, “God of Beauty.”
Bishop Matthew Garff introduced Hunter and Juliette Larson from the Mormon Church, who sang “I Heard Him Come.”
In offering the collection plate, Presbyterian Reverand Grace Park said, “We’re so glad everyone is here tonight. We know its not a peaceful world right now, but we hope you see God’s love and comfort in the world.”
She urged everyone to “Close your eyes and enjoy the peace and beauty around you.”
Each year the offering is given to a different Palisades nonprofit. This year the money went to the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness.
Joe and Cyndi Ramirez of the Palisades Lutheran Church sang “We Want to Thank You.” Cyndi said she first learned the song when she was student at Palisades High School.
The combined clergy offered a prayer for unity: “We cannot merely pray to God to end war,” and all responded, “For the world was made in such a way that we must find our own path of peace within ourselves and with our neighbor.”
The prayer continued and asked participants not only to pray, but also to act to stop prejudice, and starvation, despair and disease.
The final prayer came from Methodist Reverend Wayne Walters, who said, “May the eyes of your heart be open to the blessings around us.”
As Msgr. Kidney invited people to stay for refreshments after the service, he explained that the names on the banners hanging from the ceiling by the alter were “not the big donors” but rather those who had passed away this past year. “Around Thanksgiving, we remember people who are not here with us,” he said.