The eight places of worship that make up the Los Gatos Interfaith Council prepared for months for their annual Thanksgiving service.
Coordinator Lorraine Hepworth said this year’s event—held a-week-and-a-day early, to allow people planning to travel to attend—was a powerful showcase of unity in turbulent times.
“Oh, it was just marvelous,” she said. “It was very uplifting.”
The Thanksgiving service rotates between Baha’i Faith of Los Gatos, Congregation Shir Hadash, Jewish Silicon Valley, Los Gatos United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church of Los Gatos, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—which hosted this time.
Last year’s version was online-only because of Covid-19 restrictions.
Starting at 7pm on Nov. 18, Latter-day Saints Bishop Jeff Cole gave the welcome, with Cindy Harmer playing the “Prayer of Thanksgiving” on the organ.
Members of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley also attended, as did Vice Mayor Rob Rennie.
Several teenagers helped with greeting and ushering.
Zion’s Youth Choir sang “I Believe” by Mark Miller, followed by an address from Presbyterian Church of Los Gatos Rev. Erica Rader.
The theme of this year’s service was “gratitude,” which Hepworth said helped put the focus back on counting our blessings.
There were about 200 attendees in person and 55 on Zoom.
“We live in a world now that is so turned upside-down, there’s so much negativity around us,” she said. “This is a coming together—working to help people.”
The service stressed the importance of helping people, and stamping out disharmony.
“No matter what you believe in, we still have a lot of commonalities,” she said. “We’re concerned about each other, and we want to support each other.”
The event also raised about $3,500 for Jewish Family Services’ Emergency Fund for Afghan Refugees.
Hepworth explained that the organization does incredible work for newcomers fleeing desperate situations.
“They help them to get housing,” she said. “They help them to get food and try to get them situated, working with government branches that are available.”
But the assistance doesn’t stop there.
“They have English classes,” she said. “They try to get them acclimated to the communities in which they’re going to live.”
Hepworth recalled a woman she met whose first job in America was at a dollar store, who later was able to secure a better job after getting her feet on the ground.
“They’re not here for a free hand-out,” she said. “They’re here to make a life and contribute, which is really admirable.”
The highlight of the Thanksgiving service was the couple who described the harrowing days escaping from their native land of Afghanistan in the waning days of the U.S. occupation.
“It was very heartwarming,” she said, of the speakers from Kabul. “I think many people were touched by their experience.”
The couple talked about the chaos of their hometown airport as the American military pulled out quickly, and about leaving their families behind—not knowing when they might get to see them again.
“This was a young couple with a bright future ahead of them,” Hepworth said. “They talked a little bit about their experience trying to get to the airport.”
The event was supposed to last for an hour, but it ended up going over by 15 minutes.
It included songs from the Primary Children’s Chorus, as well as Patty McNeil and Carlo Armijo of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
Rabbi Hugh Seid-Valencia of Jewish Silicon Valley and Rabbi P.J. Schwartz, of Shir Hadash, also spoke, and Rev. Ricardo Avila, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, gave the Thanksgiving reading.
Baha’i Faith of Los Gatos’ Chris and Loren French sang “A Unity Prayer,” Cantor Devorah Felder-Levy sang “Modim Anachnu Lach” with the chorus from Congregation Shir Hadash, and Rev. David Watermulder of the Presbyterian Church of Los Gatos gave the closing prayer.
“It was quite a program,” Hepworth said. “There was just such a wonderful unity.”
Visit lginterfaith.org to see additional photos or donate to the Emergency Fund for Afghan Refugees.