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Howard, Laurel congregations to unite for Thanksgiving interfaith service

Marshall Kohen leads three choirs from 10 Laurel churches in rehearsal for the upcoming Interfaith Thanksgiving music service at Temple Isaiah in Fulton which will be held on Nov. 22, on Wednesday, November 9th.
Marshall Kohen leads three choirs from 10 Laurel churches in rehearsal for the upcoming Interfaith Thanksgiving music service at Temple Isaiah in Fulton which will be held on Nov. 22, on Wednesday, November 9th. (Noah Scialom / Baltimore Sun)

Members of Temple Isaiah and a dozen other Howard County and Laurel congregations will unite to embrace a common ground of faith during a holiday service Nov. 22 at the Fulton synagogue.

Church leaders have prepared an evening of interfaith worship and music, said Rabbi Craig Axler, of Temple Isaiah. The service will share scriptural readings and poems and feature a joint choir of members of Temple Isaiah, Laurel Presbyterian Church and Resurrection Of Our Lord Catholic Church.

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The three congregations held a similar interfaith service last year, Axler said, but this year broadened their reach after garnering interest from other congregations through the county and surrounding areas.

"This year, we've blossomed into something much, much bigger," Axler said. "Each of us chose a few additional congregations to draw in and increase the diversity across religious, racial and background lines. It really took off in a way. It's a very special thing."

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Canned foods will be collected at the service, with donations split between Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services and the Ellicott City flood relief.

For 20 years, retired Howard County principal Sterlind Burke and his family have performed a cappella gospel music at a community concert at the First Baptist Church of Savage to support the church's food pantry, Bread of Life.

In addition to the three congregations, other participating organizations include Emmanuel United Methodist Church, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Iglesia de Dios de Laurel, Islamic Community Center of Laurel, Kittamaqundi Community Church, Oaklands Presbyterian Church, Oseh Shalom Synagogue, St. Philip's Episcopal Church and Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia.

"It's meant to be a common worship, bringing together people who have very different faith traditions and worship styles," Axler said. "It doesn't happen enough in our world and it doesn't happen enough in Howard County."

The combined choirs are led by directors Marshall Kohen, of Temple Isaiah; Mike Langlois, of Resurrection Of Our Lord; and Natalie Beal, of Laurel Presbyterian Church. The choirs have individually rehearsed three arrangements to perform at the service, including "Hymn of Creation," by Dan Forrest; "I Dream a World," by Jon Szymko with text by Langston Hughes; and "For the Beauty of the Earth," by John Rutter.

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Kohen said the name of Temple Isaiah's choir, Shir Isaiah, is a play on words, utilizing both the Hebrew and English languages.

"'Shir' in Hebrew means 'song,' so it's a play on the word 'sheer' in English," said Kohen, who has been the choir director at Temple Isaiah for 15 years. "We have about 25 folks in the choir of all different ages and we're all volunteers."

About 50 to 60 members will sing in the combined three choirs, he said, which have had one joint rehearsal in preparation for the interfaith service. Although large collaborations present challenges in finding the right place for various voices, Kohen said the participating choirs have found a common ground in religion as well as song through phrasing, dynamics and word pronunciation.

Each piece will also introduce different religious texts, he said, including verses in Hebrew.

"Trying to infuse the meaning of the words and thoughts behind all the songs into our thinking, that always helps improve a musician's sense of performance when you can understand what the composer was trying to say," Kohen said. "I think it's going to be great. I'm really thrilled that we're able to be involved in this."

Marshall Kohen leads three choirs from 10 Laurel churches in rehearsal for the upcoming Interfaith Thanksgiving music service at Temple Isaiah in Fulton which will be held on Nov. 22, on Wednesday, November 9th.
Marshall Kohen leads three choirs from 10 Laurel churches in rehearsal for the upcoming Interfaith Thanksgiving music service at Temple Isaiah in Fulton which will be held on Nov. 22, on Wednesday, November 9th. (Noah Scialom / Baltimore Sun)

Blends of faith will extend beyond song and into calls to prayer, according to Laurel Presbyterian Church pastor the Rev. Amy Ruth Schacht. Prayers will be offered in Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, and other readings will include Jewish, Muslim and Christian texts.

The service will begin with passing the peace, Schacht said, as all members of faith meet and welcome one another under one roof. In prayer, Schacht said, themes of peace, community, healing, justice and gratitude are always represented, no matter the religion.

"The congregational response honors that we gather from different faiths, traditions, practices, countries and languages to give thanks to the Creator," Schacht said. "The sense is to come together, get to know one another and to start hearing each other's stories of what it means to live your faith – whatever that may be – and to live in this country right now."

With the controversy that followed the election of President-elect Donald Trump last week, Schacht and Axler agreed that now is the time to unite as one to overcome any notions of prejudice.

Last year's service saw about 100 people, but Axler said attendance will most likely spike after "coming off of this bruising election season."

"A lot of people are looking for something positive to do, something that brings comfort and brings people together," he said.

"The number of clerics and communities we've invited to participate has grown exponentially and that's just wonderful," Schacht said. "We suspect after [the Nov. 8] election in this area, we may get even more than we expected; people who want to come out and join together in a celebration of Thanksgiving and celebration that no matter who you are, we come together in gratitude."

To unify religious communities is to spread a sense of joy into the community, Kohen said, and what better time than Thanksgiving.

"The more people who can come together and take the feeling that we hope to create that night back to their home congregations and share the thoughts that are going to be expressed — the more we can do that, the better this will be," Kohen said.

The interfaith Thanksgiving service will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Isaiah, 12200 Scaggsville Road, Fulton. For more information, contact 301-317-1101 or Rabbi Craig Axler at rabbiaxler@templeisaiah.org.



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