Thanksgiving Service Remembers Good Samaritans
Helping strangers in need was a theme that ran through this year's Greenbelt Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. Held at Mishkan Torah Synagogue, the service provided an opportunity for Greenbelt's Bahá'ís, Catholics, Jews, and Protestants to gather in worship.
"I don't know how far back this service goes," said Rabbi Saul Grife of Mishkan Torah, "but it's so far back that we've forgotten – which is good. It has become a tradition."
The service was led by what Rabbi Grife described as "a familiar cast of characters," and this familiarity extended to the congregation, which collectively showed its joy or sorrow at community news. Thanks was given for the arrival of a daughter to the Rev. Drew Shofner of Greenbelt Baptist Church; prayers were solicited for the Rev. Sid Congor of Berwyn Presbyterian Church, who is in the hospital.
But Rabbi Grife reminded the congregation that they must remember people outside of the community. He told the biblical story of Rebekah's kindness to Eliezer, a stranger. According to Jewish commentary on the story, other people noticed the arrival of Eliezer to the desert well, but refused to help him. "We don't know who you are," Rabbi Grife quoted them as saying. "We don't know why you're here. You can't have our water."
But Rebekah's reaction was different, Rabbi Grife continued. "She doesn't ask for a passport," he said. "She doesn't ask for proof of citizenship. She doesn't ask for money. She simply gives the water. . . .
"When we do things for others without a reason," concluded Rabbi Grife, "that's a cause for celebration and thanksgiving."
The service itself was intended as an act of kindness to strangers, for donations were collected after the service for the Greenbelt Clergy Association's Good Samaritan Fund. The Rev. Daniel Hamlin of Greenbelt Community Church vividly described the purpose of such a fund.
"Several years ago, the rear wheel of my car fell off in the middle of a snowstorm while I was in Birmingham, Alabama," he said. "I had four dollars in my pocket, which I gave to my wife and children and sent them across the street to eat at McDonald's. I then threw myself on the mercy of the garage – and they had no mercy. Fortunately, Birmingham had something like the Good Samaritan Fund there."
Pastor Shofner said after the service that the fund was set up by the Greenbelt community "to make sure that the funds are used in the most efficient way." People in need are given vouchers that they can use at the Co-op, Giant, and Safeway, he said.
James Sturdivant of the Greenbelt Bahá'í Community said that the fund started over ten years ago when members of the Greenbelt Clergy Association compared notes and discovered that some people who had solicited money from one clergyman then went on to beg money from all of the other clergy in town; policemen were receiving the same solicitation. The clergy association set up the fund in cooperation with the city in order to ensure that those in need were helped, but that there was no abuse of the system.
At the service itself, Mr. Hamlin said that Greenbelt's community spirit, which allowed the interfaith service to take place, was a cause for celebration. "It's the architecture and the location and the history that make Greenbelt interesting," he said. "I think it's occasions like this that make Greenbelt great."
© 1997 Heather Elizabeth