A rabbi, a priest and an imam walk into a……

Thoughts from Hal Schlenger, Senior Vice President of Programming at Temple Kol Emeth and chairperson since 2007. 

You probably knew that Cobb County’s history of religious intolerance and bigotry was a legacy that couldn’t be ended soon enough. The story of Leo Frank, a Jewish business person, is one of the county’s low moments. As much as we could dwell on, or worse, perpetuate such behavior, a growing group in Cobb and N Fulton counties has dramatically changed the local reputation.

To hear a Catholic priest and Jewish rabbi telling jokes to an audience of upwards of 1,000 people, to hear the Islamic Call to Prayer sung from a Jewish temple’s pulpit, and to hear Sikh, Universalist Unitarian, Episcopal, Protestant and Mormons speak from the same pulpit over the past 12 years is proof that something has changed in Cobb County.

Awarded the Creating Community Award by the Cobb County commissioners in 2010, the annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving Celebration is a shining example of cooperation, brotherhood and sisterhood, and building the trusted friendships that was missing in Cobb County.

The group started by demonstrating how we could “coexist,” which aligns with the Manifesto’s call for “respect and accommodation for diverse religious and secular identities.” The success of the early events became a springboard for celebrating our commonalities, reducing xenophobia and enabling trust and new friendships. For a Palestinian raised in Gaza to speak of discovering the commonalty and trust of Christians and Jews, to hear quotes from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quoran, the Sikh’s Guru Granth Sahib, the Bahá’í’s Aqdas, and to hear members of what is now 18+ faith-based organizations form a choir that rehearsed and sang together – and of course the humor between the rabbi, priest and iman, is proof that the manifesto’s objective is realistic and achievable in the near term.

Interfaith Success Story

At the suggestion of planning committee member Asif Saberi, we shifted the annual theme of the reflective messages from “how your faith view Thanksgiving” to other themes that allowed us to show the vastness of our multiple faith’s commonalities. Think about these themes and you’ll see that we’re providing a foundation for the manifesto’s call for respect and enable people speak out and stand against acts of hate and intolerance with confidence and personal experiences: The Golden Rule, Peace Begins with Me, What You Teach Your Children about other religions, and The Ripple Effect: Together we create waves (of change).

We invited feedback by writing on a Wall of Words as well as Facebook and Twitter. A sample of what people said:

  • Never stop this service. It is an amazing thing. It inspires me to think through other people’s perspective.
  • My spirit soared.
  • We are all just walking each other home.
  • The world is perfect; there are just a lot of people having a bad conversation.
  • Bridges are walls turned sideways.
  • Whatever effects one directly affects all of us indirectly… Martin Luther King – #manyfaiths
  • So proud and amazed at the continued presence of so #ManyFaiths!!!
  • Sometimes the best way to solve your problem is to help someone with theirs.
  • Be part of the ripple!
  • Feeling so grateful to be amongst all these openhearted people of faith. G-d is good!
  • We’ll be back. Wonderful!

List of participating congregations:

  • Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
  • Baha’i Faith of Marietta
  • Chestnut Ridge Christian Church
  • Congregation Etz Chaim
  • Earthkeepers, First Nation
  • East Cobb Islamic Center
  • East Cobb United Methodist Church
  • Emerson Universalist Unitarian
  • First United Methodist Church of Marietta
  • Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple
  • Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
  • House of Hope International Christian Church
  • Islamic Center of Marietta
  • Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta
  • Masjid Al-Muminum
  • Roswell Community Masjid
  • Saint Benedict’s Episcopal Church
  • Saint Catherine’s Episcopal Church
  • Sikh Educational Welfare Association
  • St Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church
  • Temple Beth Tikvah
  • Temple Kol Emeth
  • Transfiguration Catholic Church
  • Trinity Presbyterian Church
  • Unitarian Universalist of Metro Atlanta North
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Unity North Spiritual Community

Now What?

Hal Schlenger, Senior Vice President of Programming at Temple Kol Emeth, is the event’s chairperson since 2007, which was initially chaired by Randy Suchke. Learn more about Temple Kol Emeth here.