Minneapolis congregations — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — will say aloud a common vow Thursday morning as they recite a Native American address giving thanks.

"Now our minds are one.''

With news of war, suffering and death in the Middle East and worries about Islamophobia and antisemitism at home, more than 100 voices will join to recite the refrain. Each passage of the address shares gratitude with a different part of the natural world — from plants and stars to teachers and trees — recognizing our kinship and connectedness.

They are only words, but for those involved, they're powerful.

"I truly believe that interfaith dialogue is the antidote to violence," said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, who leads Temple Israel in Minneapolis. "I just don't think when people are talking to each other, when people have relationships, that violence is an option."

Zimmerman and clergy from the Islamic Community Center of Minnesota/Masjid Al-Amin, Masjid An-Nur, and 12 area Protestant and Catholic churches and their members are joining together at Plymouth Congregational Church for the city's annual Thanksgiving Day interfaith service.

These faith communities have long been gathering to give thanks each November, as interfaith services across the country have become a traditional part of the secular holiday.

The annual service is a rare gathering of so many congregations and clergy. But this year, the event will offer a much-needed moment of connection.

"It feels like things are coming apart, but we in our own community, in our own context, we can draw closer to each other," said Rev. Dr. DeWayne Davis, lead minister at Plymouth.

There will be organ music, a reading of President Biden's 2023 Thanksgiving Proclamation and messages from Zimmerman and Hamdy El-Sawaf from Masjid Al-Amin. Organizers are expecting as many as 200 people from the 15 different faith communities.

"It really has the potential to be a time for people to share in some peace that I think may have eluded us, given what has been happening," Davis said. "Having the imam and the rabbi guiding us a little bit in how to think about how to be in relationship, despite differing approaches and different takes on this, we can be in dialogue and we can be in peace together."

El-Sawaf, an imam and a psychotherapist who emigrated from Egypt to Minnesota more than 40 years ago. said it's especially difficult for him and his community to enjoy Thanksgiving while there's so much suffering in Gaza.

"We're having turkey, we have a wonderful dinner. They do not have even a little piece of food to eat," he said. "It will be very tough for me personally."

That's why he said it's more important than ever for Jewish, Christian and Muslim people to come together, "when they are facing a hard time."

"We have to stop this as soon as we can," he said. "Cease-fire as soon as we can. Take care of the humans on either side. We have to take care of them no matter what, and no fighting, no killing each other."

Downtown Minneapolis Interfaith Senior Clergy, the group that hosts the annual service, has gathered amid turmoil before — including after 9/11. It hosted an online gathering in 2020 during the first pandemic Thanksgiving following George Floyd's murder.

This group always finds "some kind of common ground and common voice," said Zimmerman, who has family in Israel, including a cousin who's a teacher near the Gaza border. Many of her students were killed in Hamas' Oct 7 attack.

"Things are difficult, and communities are getting extremely fearful, with the rise of antisemitism and the rise of Islamophobia," she said. Faith leaders can "find something above and beyond the division, whether that's the hope for peace or the hope for commencing conversations again."

Gathering together

The history of many faiths coming together on Thanksgiving is a long one.

In Minneapolis, Plymouth Congregational and four other Protestant downtown churches first began uniting for a single Thanksgiving service in the 1940s. Other interfaith services were started around the country — and many more followed later — as a way to recognize a day of shared American values and rituals that can be claimed by any faith.

Beginning in 1948, Temple Israel also hosted separate interfaith Thanksgiving services. They combined into one downtown Minneapolis interfaith Thanksgiving celebration for the first time in 1967, with the job of hosting rotating to a different congregation each year. The group has grown, and the two Muslim communities joined more recently. El-Sawaf has been part of it for nearly 19 years, he said.

For Minnesota houses of worship, marking the Thanksgiving holiday has evolved since the days that Colonial Church in Edina (now called Meetinghouse) held a procession with drummers dressed in Pilgrim costumes. Many Americans now acknowledge the difficult truths behind the holiday's origin story and churches like Plymouth include kids' curriculum about Wampanoag history and why many Indigenous people see the day as one of mourning.

Still, Thanksgiving has long been a day to extend invitations freely and bring different groups of people together, and Thursday's interfaith celebration follows in that tradition.

Davis said that including an English translation of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address — which gives thanks and expresses kinship with everything in the natural world and was traditionally recited at gatherings of the Six Nations of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora people — is a way to think about Thanksgiving "in a different way."

The address, which has been passed along through oral tradition and used around the year at Indigenous gatherings, is one Robin Wall Kimmerer calls "a river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as the Words That Come Before All Else," in her book "Braiding Sweetgrass."

Davis sees the interfaith service as a unique opportunity for connection.

"Especially when the world feels so chaotic and unmoored, this is an opportunity for us to reinforce our own connection and relationships," he said. "This is the true definition of interfaith, where no one need feel insecure about their place in the room."