2016-12-07 / Voice at the Shore

Downbeach Ministerium Thanksgiving service reaches out to wider community

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Harpist Stephanie Sussmeier and the Second Baptist Church choir helped make the Downbeach Ministerium’s Thanksgiving service an uplifting and spiritual experience for the roughly 250 people of many faiths and races who attended. Harpist Stephanie Sussmeier and the Second Baptist Church choir helped make the Downbeach Ministerium’s Thanksgiving service an uplifting and spiritual experience for the roughly 250 people of many faiths and races who attended. The Monday evening before Thanksgiving, over 250 people of many faiths packed into the Margate Community Church to share in the annual Thanksgiving service offered by the Downbeach Ministerium, an interfaith group of clergy from Ventnor, Margate, and Longport working together on projects that benefit the community.

The Thanksgiving service is a 25-year tradition for the group, said Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of Shirat Hayam, who currently leads the Ministerium. Yet in a break from tradition, this year’s service involved more than just the Downbeach community. The Ministerium also invited Atlantic City’s Second Baptist Church to take part. The African-American church showed up in force, with its pastor, choir, and many congregants, adding incredible spirit, song and inspiration to the evening.


Clergy members at the Downbeach Ministerium’s interfaith Thanksgiving service included (from left) Reverend David Fleming of the Margate Community Church, who hosted the service, Beth El Synagogue’s Rabbi Aaron Krauss, and Reverend Collins Days of the Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City. Clergy members at the Downbeach Ministerium’s interfaith Thanksgiving service included (from left) Reverend David Fleming of the Margate Community Church, who hosted the service, Beth El Synagogue’s Rabbi Aaron Krauss, and Reverend Collins Days of the Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City. “This is a first,” said Hazzan Myers. “We felt it was important to bring the larger community together,” he noted.

Shirat Hayam’s Rabbi Gordon Geller, who also took part in the service, agreed. “After a contentious election, I think people wanted to get together with the entire community. There was a need for this. I like that people of every color and creed were here. There is a yearning for American unity.” He added that “the turnout was much bigger than usual.”

Soothing harp music played from the chancel (the church’s equivalent of a bima) as congregants and clergy streamed into the beautiful sanctuary. After a brief welcome from Margate Community Church’s Reverend David Fleming, Hazzan Myers began the service by teaching those assembled to sing “Hinei Ma Tov” in Hebrew. A program for the service, given to each attendee upon arrival, included the song’s translation: “Behold how good and pleasant that nations of earth can dwell in peace,” and transliteration.

Reverend Fleming then offered the invocation. “We gather in Thanksgiving to God tonight,” said Fleming. “We realize we are each a bearer of God’s blessing….We gather with grateful hearts and renewed minds.”

“There is a certain energy about interfaith gatherings,” said Reverend Douglas Eberly, a retired Episcopal clergyman, upon taking his turn at the pulpit. Eberly led the room in a prayer offering thanks to God for the beauty and wonder of the world, daily bread, and even for life’s disappointments, which provide opportunities for learning lessons and gaining strength.

Fleming then gave an especially warm welcome to the Second Baptist Church and its choir, which filled the room with resonant harmony. Their voices became louder and more spirited as they sang, “You are the source of my strength, you are the strength of my life, I lift my hands in total praise to you.”

Reverend Collins Days of Second Baptist expressed his gratitude for being able to come together with the community in prayer, song and unity during a time when hate speech was becoming all too common.

He also went on to explain his congregation’s worship style. “Preaching in the black experience is not a monologue, it’s a dialogue,” he noted. “So don’t be surprised if I say something and the congregation says something back to me, even louder than me. That is part of our experience.”

Even as Days gave this explanation, many congregants from his church enthusiastically and spontaneously shouted, “Yes!”

Days then offered his explication of Psalm 118 of the King James Bible, a prayer of thanksgiving instructing worshippers to “give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: because His mercy endureth forever.” Days told worshippers: “it’s easy to give thanks to God when He’s done something on your behalf. But the psalm says to bless God simply because He’s good.”

“Whatever happens,” said Days—even an election such as the one that just took place, he noted—“His mercy endures forever, His love endures forever, and His goodness endures forever.”

Days recalled a recent exchange he had with a business leader, who was wearing several safety pins—a symbolic gesture many people have adopted post-election to show solidarity with minorities (i.e., to show that they are “safe”). Reverend Days told this man that while he appreciated this gesture, “I’m not safe because of the safety pin; I’m safe because the Lord is on our side. As long as we’re on the side of justice and mercy, the Lord is on our side.”

Rabbi Geller offered the closing benediction for the service. Immediately following, everyone was invited to the church’s social hall for desserts. Notably, a section of the dessert buffet table was set aside and marked as kosher in recognition of the needs of Jewish community members who came out for the Downbeach Ministerium’s Thanksgiving service. 

Return to top