When Rabbi Joshua Lobel arrived at Congregation Beth El in Missouri City in 2014, he had a vision of unity.
“Inside, we all have the same feelings and emotions of gratitude (during Thanksgiving),” he said.
In response to that concept, he created an annual event he said highlights the diversity of Fort Bend County while reminding people they’re all the same at their core. The Fort Bend Interfaith Council (FBIC) will hold its fifth annual all-faiths Thanksgiving service, with the theme of “Peace in our Hearts, Peace in the World,” on Monday night at Christ Church in Sugar Land.
Lobel, who has since left Congregation Beth El to lead Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater, Florida, rallied several area faith
leaders to form the council in 2015 as a call to action in response to the county’s ever-growing diversity.
“When I began (at Beth El), one of my priorities was to build an interfaith community where we could learn, pray and do good works, because I felt it was important to be able to bring people together as a community,” Lobel said. “I wanted to move us to a point where we’re living with each other in a more meaningful and relationship-oriented way.”
The Fort Bend Interfaith Council is made up any religious group that “believes in building meaningful relationships” and seeks to promote dialogue and understanding throughout the state’s most diverse county through events such as the annual Thanksgiving service. Members are of the Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths, among others.
“Every religion is worthwhile and has something to offer. We all need to learn to live together in love and harmony,” FBIC member and Missouri City resident Valerie Tolman said.
According to a 2018 Kinder Institute survey for the Houston area, Fort Bend has become one of America’s most ethnically diverse counties. It is 34 percent white, 24 percent Latino, 22 percent African American and 20 percent Asian.
“It was a blessing to try being able to create this opportunity for people of different backgrounds and faiths to pray together and be together in solidarity expressing this shared emotion of thankfulness and appreciation,” Lobel said.
More than 1,000 community members are expected to show up to Monday’s service, which will feature readings, songs, poems, dances and prayers from more than 30 county institutions of faith.
The service will also include clergy and members from local congregations representing their faiths’ expressions of Thanksgiving through readings from the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon as well as songs of prayer and praise. Brand Lane Islamic Center in Stafford, Hindus of Greater Houston, New Hope Lutheran Church in Missouri City and Congregation Beth El Shalom in Sugar Land will be among the faith institutions participating.
“One of my primary goals was to have a place we could come together as a community of faiths to express our commonality and shared gratitude for all the blessings bestowed upon us,” Lobel said. “People have been receptive to it. … It’s become part of the tradition of how we give thanks in Fort Bend County, and I’m extremely proud of it.”
Tolman referred to Fort Bend County as the “petri dish” and a large-scale testing ground for the country in terms of religious, ethnic and economic diversity. Non-Christian faiths make up about 6 percent of the U.S. population according to a 2017 Religious Landscape Study from the Pew Research Center.
“If we can learn to get along, appreciate one another and live together in community and harmony, there’s no reason the rest of the country can’t do it,” Tolman said. “That’s what we’re striving for. We want everyone to learn that we can all live together and help each other out.”
For more information on the Fort Bend Interfaith Council, visit its website at fbinterfaith.org/.
“I felt like this was a way to expose people to the good (in this country),” Lobel said. “We all focus on our differences. Here was an opportunity to focus on our similarities. There’s so much more that unites us than divides us.”