Gratitude in troubled times: Woodstock’s Interfaith Thanksgiving service

Woodstock Interfaith Council members Joshua Bode, Sonja Maclary, Jan Tarlin, and George Hommel.

The public is invited to the Woodstock Interfaith Council’s Thanksgiving service on Monday, November 20, at 7 p.m., at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation (WJC). Leaders of local religious institutions — Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish — will offer thoughts, readings, and music on the theme of “Practicing Gratitude in Troubled Times.”

The tradition of interfaith Thanksgiving gatherings in Woodstock goes back for more than a decade. The council was originally composed only of Christian leaders, said council member Jan Tarlin of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery (KTD), and the Thanksgiving service was about “transcending denominational boundaries, getting together and starting the holidays right. But with the addition of the Jewish Congregation, and then two Buddhist monasteries, the council became truly interfaith. Our thinking is that division is dangerous in multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic societies. The more unity between religious communities we can demonstrate, the greater the possibility that the people who experience these services — or even know they’re happening — will think more in terms of unity than division.”


This year the sermon will be delivered by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Roshi of the Zen Mountain Monastery and will include a teaching on offering well-being to others. He will lead the interfaith congregation through a practice that Shugen described as “like a Buddhist prayer, although the language is not specifically Buddhist. It can be addressed to individuals, congregations, or nations. People can feel so disempowered. Although there’s a lot we can be doing outwardly, religious practices teach us that what we do with our minds also effects change.”

“In discussing the theme of ‘Practicing Gratitude in Troubled Times,’” said Tarlin, “it became clear that most of us feel all times are difficult in the human situation. What our country is going through now in terms of painful division is really felt by people of all political persuasions and cultural heritages. We want to emphasize that whatever our particular difficulty is now, it’s part of a larger picture of struggle. Each of our traditions has something to say about that.”

An opening prayer will be offered by Reverend Paul Smith of the Overlook and Shady Methodist Churches. Overlook’s choir, joined by singers from other congregations, will perform hymns. Tarlin will read from the writings of Milarepa, the great hermit yogi poet of the Tibetan tradition, who taught by singing songs of his own composition. The KTD choir will lead chanting of the Compassion Mantra.

After Shugen’s teaching and prayers, further readings will be delivered by Pam Murnan of the First Church of Christ, Scientist; Reverend Joshua Bode of the Woodstock Reformed Church; and Father George Hommel of St. John’s Roman Catholic Church. “These teachings address the issues of what makes it difficult to be human and how those difficulties might be addressed in the way we live our lives,” said Tarlin. “There’s a big emphasis on music for this service. Hopefully the music, not just the words, but the experience of the music, will also encourage and inspire people.” A closing song will come from Rabbi Jonathan Kligler of WJC.

A collection will be taken, with all donations going to the Ulster Immigrant Defense Fund. This local organization provides legal representation for immigrants at risk of unwarranted deportation, as well as offering assistance to their families, an immigrant helpline, training of volunteer assistance teams, sanctuary spaces, and education on rights and responsibilities of immigrants.

The Woodstock Interfaith Council will sponsor an “Interfaith Thanksgiving Service: Practicing Gratitude in Difficult Times” on Monday, November 20, at 7 p.m. at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, 1682 Glasco Turnpike, Woodstock. Admission is free, and a collection will be taken for the Ulster Immigrant Defense Network. For more information on the Network, see


Geoffrey Shugen Arnold

On a recent trip to Japan, Geoffrey Shugen Arnold of the Zen Mountain Monastery (ZMM), located in Mount Tremper, received the title of Roshi, indicating a senior teacher. While the title is prestigious within the Zen community, Shugen said it does not confer practical authority, which he had already received from Daido Loori Roshi, the previous head of the Mountains and Rivers Order, of which ZMM is a member. Before his death, Daido passed his mantle as teacher and leader on to Shugen.

The trip to Japan involved formalities such as being honorary head priest for a day at an 800-year-old monastery. For Shugen, the main advantages of his trip were to “maintain living roots in Japan, where Daido’s teacher came from, and to make connections with Japanese priests and teachers who are part of our tradition, giving us access to older texts in the original languages.”