FaithsTogether is a group of community members and leaders that seeks to promote unity within The Woodlands while celebrating religious differences through respectful dialogue. Created in response to social injustice concerns, a group of concerned individuals from various faith communities came together to discuss how best to address these important issues. FaithsTogether was formed with the leadership of Reverend Charles Hendricks of The Woodlands Presbyterian Church, Rabbi James Brandt of Congregation Beth Shalom and representatives of twelve other faith communities, including Hindu Community, Unity Christian Truth Center, Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Church, Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, Northwoods Unitarian Universalist, Christ Church United Methodist, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and Lord of Life Lutheran Church.
FaithsTogether’s founding mission defines the group as “a fellowship of religious communities, which honors spiritual diversity by building relationships and understanding among people of different faiths.” The original committee decided that the best way to initiate unity in our community was to coordinate an event in the month of November around the idea of thankfulness. The first Giving Thanks Observance was held in the same year, hosted by The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church. According to Reverend Charles Hendricks, the church’s lead pastor at the time, Mr. George Mitchell was in attendance and commented that “this is what The Woodlands should be.”
Since then, the annual Observance has rotated to different faith communities each year, with annual themes such as “Healing Our Lives,” “We are Neighbors,” “Getting to Know You—We Are Once in Community” and “Celebrating Faith and Friends.” Current committee member Sherri Duchin shared, “One of my personal favorite programs was when we looked at the role of our religious faiths in life cycle events such as birth, coming of age, weddings and funerals. We hosted this observance at Congregation Beth Shalom, and the Hindu community walked the audience through a Hindu wedding that was meaningful, colorful and musical!”
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Giving Thanks Observance, and FaithsTogether will mark this special occasion by returning to the original location at The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church. The annual Giving Thanks Observance is a beautiful time of fellowship and celebrating the human spirit, and it is proof that people of different faiths can worship together. The opening of each observance is special in its own right: after a welcome from the hosting clergy, the “shofar” is sounded, a ram’s horn that is often used in Judaism to stir one’s conscience; the Islamic call to prayer is recited in its distinctive rhythmic and lyrical verse; and the “shankha,” or conch shell, is blown to symbolize the sacred syllable Om in Hinduism.
Having experienced the Observances myself, I can attest that these three actions of faith really create an atmosphere of worship and unity, and they set the stage for a parade of faith expressions among people with a common conviction to understand and love their neighbors. During the Observance, each faith practice performs or presents something significant to their faith at the time, but some of the most special performances are the inter-religious presentations like a youth choir or skit. Witnessing the next generation embracing faith traditions other than their own, in an expression of loving tolerance and respect for their peers, is a reminder of why The Woodlands is such a unique community. Carol East, Founder and current committee member of FaithsTogether, shared her favorite moment of the annual observance: “My most meaningful memories of . . . FaithsTogether’s [Giving Thanks Observance] have occurred at every gathering for 19 years. While sitting in the midst of a group representing at least 13 faith communities, I sensed and personally experienced overwhelming, palpable feelings of joy, acceptance, respect and unconditional love among everyone present.”
More recently, FaithsTogether has tried to enhance interfaith dialogue and relationship building beyond the annual Observance. Jan Chapell, current committee member, stated, “The value of building relationships with people outside of your faith opens the door for comfortable conversations.” Last year, all the youth religious leaders in the community, as well as youth from their faith communities, came together for a night of fellowship. Some other inter-faith events have included members of FaithsTogether lecturing for a World Religion class for Lone Star College’s Life Long Learning Academy each year. They have also invited faith communities to serve the community together in different ways. One way they do this is to volunteer together. For example, they have volunteered the past two years for a Montgomery County Food Fair, a mobile food panty held at Woodforest Stadium. A dinner dialogue was held in 2016 at a committee member’s home, where 40 guests were invited to share a meal and part take in and lead Islamic conversation with their neighbors from other faith practices.
The 20th annual Giving Thanks Observance will be held Tuesday, November 13, 2018 at 7 p.m. at The Woodlands Community Presbyterian Church, and you are personally invited to come and experience the wonder and beauty of this unique event.