Christians, Jews, Muslims come together to share traditions


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Dr. Muzaffar Shaikh, left, Rabbi Patricia Hickman and the Rev. David Jahn are excited about “United in Thanksgiving: An Interfaith Celebration of Gratitude.’’ It will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20 at Advent Lutheran Church’s Suntree campus in Melbourne.

VIERA VOICE Kristy Wright

The Rev. David Jahn of Advent Lutheran Church in Melbourne knows that despite differences, three major religions can come together in a celebration of thanksgiving.

Jahn is a man with a warm and friendly voice who goes by the more informal Pastor Dave.

Jahn, who grew up in Detroit, had an untraditional path for a man in the clergy. He started out as a musician and a writer before earning an engineering degree.

Playing the bass guitar and singing the lead for Christian rock bands sparked his transition into the clergy. He studied at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.

Jahn has been instrumental in organizing the upcoming Thanksgiving week celebration, “United in Thanksgiving: An Interfaith Celebration of Gratitude,” where Christians, Jews and Muslims will come together “to share traditions and to give thanks to God.”

During the service, Jahn will represent the Christian faith.

According to Mohammad Samarah, a doctorate and graduate student from the Florida Institute of Technology and an organizer of the event, several leaders from the local Muslim community, including The Islamic Society of Brevard, will be present.

Dr. Muzaffar Shaikh, an active member of the Muslim community and head of the Engineering Systems program at Florida Tech, will lead the Muslim portion of the celebration.

“These types of gatherings are great in developing a mutual understanding of all faiths,’’ Shaikh said.

Rabbi Patricia Hickman of Temple Israel in Viera will represent Judaism during the celebration.

“It is through the beauty of coming together that we can heal our world,” Hickman said. “With deep ecumenism, we can come to an understanding of each other and together join our voices in thanks to the Creator.”

The celebration will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20 at Advent Lutheran Church’s Suntree campus in Melbourne. After the hour-long service, hors d'oeuvres and desserts will be served as people meet, chat and mingle.

“The average Christian has no idea if they’ve ever met a Buddhist or Muslim,” Jahn said. “This will be a powerful opportunity just to meet and have fellowship.”

The idea is to bring Jews, Muslims and Christians together under one roof.

“I was deeply troubled by the divisiveness that seemed to be increasing in our nation and, as I was praying about it, I got a strong sense that this would be a great opportunity to experience our unity,’’ Jahn said. “Instead of being bombarded with what divides us, I thought what better to be united around than thanks.’’

Jahn then conceived the interfaith celebration idea, “United in Thanksgiving,” service.

Advent Lutheran Church will host the event as part of the Suntree Viera Area Association of Churches (SVAAC).

“It is our year to host,” said Jahn, explaining the churches take turns hosting a SVAAC service around Thanksgiving every year.

After Advent Lutheran Church decided on the interfaith service, SVAAC, according to Jahn, was open to “making it interfaith.”

“There is a level of anxiety that is unprecedented, a level of division, of losing friends because of divisiveness and disagreement,” Jahn said. “When I mention this (interfaith celebration), the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Hickman and Samarah were very positive about it.

“In all the major Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islamic, the vast majority of what we teach — how people ought to treat each other — those things are very similar. The place where we disagree is on what we cannot really know — the nature of God, the character of God — we diverge in terms of our teaching. For those of us who are comfortable with the fact that, compared with the vastness of the universe, we don’t know anything, and for those who are comfortable accepting the idea that there might be other ways of looking at things, this service will be affirming and not threatening.”

Jahn hopes that the event can expand to include other faiths and become an annual celebration. It likely would have included other faiths this year if there had been more time to organize the celebration. The service is open to people of all faiths.