In this divisive and difficult time of terrorist attacks and refugees, the 10 ministers at Ashland’s popular Interfaith Thanksgiving service will focus on the unifying message of “Reaching Out, Helping Others.”

It’s the 32nd celebration of the event, which underlines the similarity of all faiths, at their core, and helps give a spiritual spin to a sometimes stressful weekend that can often be too much about food and shopping.

It starts at 10 a.m. Thursday, and fills an hour with brief sermons, stories, music and a bit of dancing. It’s at Wesley Hall, behind First Methodist Church, on Laurel at North Main Street, across from the old Briscoe School. It’s free, open to the public and early arrival is advised, as it’s usually standing room only.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the diversity of all faith traditions,” says Rev. Ruth Kirby, organizer of the event for 11 years. “We acknowledge our respect for all of them and embrace them. Even if they’re wildly different than what we believe, there is room for all of it.”

In shaping the interfaith celebration, Kirby, of the Centers for Spiritual Living says she encourages all ministers and presenters to “come in the fullness of their tradition and not water it down. What always happens is we sense and feel how we are all that same in the base foundation of our values that come forward.”

Buddhist Roxanne Rae of Soka Gakkai International, Ashland, says she will talk about “how we are all connected and that it’s not possible for one country to be happy while the countries around it are suffering. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

It’s the goal of her organization, says Rae, “to work for peace and generate hope, as people seem to be losing hope."

"We have to use our individual power to create a new reality and find a common ground,” she says.

Speaking for Taoism, an ancient Chinese religion, Ashland musician Gene Burnett, says his message will be that “if you feel genuinely moved to help, your results will be better than if you feel forced.”

Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah Shir Hadash, said he’ll address the notion of light, as “there’s only one light but when it’s put through the prism of existence, it comes out in different colors. If you put an atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew together, they are expressions of the one source of pure light.”

Rev. Kimberly Hawkins of the Center for Spiritual Living, Rogue Valley, says her message will be that “God is from one source and we are that. Borders are irrelevant. There are many paths to the one God and similarities are much stronger than any differences. Basically, we are all teaching one thing.”

Hawkins emphasizes that all religions have fundamentalists but no religion, at its core, teaches violence.

Kirby attended the giant Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City this summer (as did Hawkins) and came away with a much deeper feeling for interfaith work, reaching out and helping others – and an understanding that “one of the most dangerous things in the world is a person whose life has no meaning and who is not connected to anyone. Our work is to help with the madness going on in the world by reaching out to other people, so there’s not so much of it.”

Quaker Bob Morse says he will emphasize “holding the light and visualizing people in the light of God, whether it’s a friend with cancer or refugees in the plight of homelessness and flight. All the world’s conditions now, whether refugees or climate disruption, or ongoing war definitely inform our Southern Oregon community and how we can reach out to people.”

Dorita Betts Borgerson, minister of spiritual growth and outreach said her First Methodist Church helps others through its Uncle Foods Diner, which it does every Tuesday with Peace House, “as an expression of Christ’s love.” She will express the philosophy of the Golden Rule and Christ’s teaching of “love your neighbor as yourself, which is the core principal of Christianity. When we put those principals into action, we are one with the spirit of love.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.