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Worshippers stand for the procession of a Thanksgiving Eve service hosted by local Air Force communities inside the historic Ely Cathedral. The service dates back to World War II when British neighbors invited American troops to use the cathedral as a place of worship on the American holiday.

Worshippers stand for the procession of a Thanksgiving Eve service hosted by local Air Force communities inside the historic Ely Cathedral. The service dates back to World War II when British neighbors invited American troops to use the cathedral as a place of worship on the American holiday. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

Worshippers stand for the procession of a Thanksgiving Eve service hosted by local Air Force communities inside the historic Ely Cathedral. The service dates back to World War II when British neighbors invited American troops to use the cathedral as a place of worship on the American holiday.

Worshippers stand for the procession of a Thanksgiving Eve service hosted by local Air Force communities inside the historic Ely Cathedral. The service dates back to World War II when British neighbors invited American troops to use the cathedral as a place of worship on the American holiday. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

Rows of pie slices wait to be served to those who attended a Thanksgiving Eve service inside the historic Ely Cathedral.

Rows of pie slices wait to be served to those who attended a Thanksgiving Eve service inside the historic Ely Cathedral. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

Airmen bow their heads in prayer.

Airmen bow their heads in prayer. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles C. Baldwin, Air Force chief of chaplains, gives remarks during thr Thanksgiving Eve service.

Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles C. Baldwin, Air Force chief of chaplains, gives remarks during thr Thanksgiving Eve service. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

Members of the RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath combined choir recite a religious hymn.

Members of the RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath combined choir recite a religious hymn. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

ELY — Airmen flanked by family members continued a long tradition in this country last week by participating in a Thanksgiving Eve church service inside the historic Ely Cathedral.

The tradition dates to World War II when the country was inundated with U.S. troops serving at nearby bases. As a way of showing gratitude, local Brits invited them to use the cathedral as a place to thank God for his blessings on the American holiday.

The Thanksgiving Eve service draws an average of 1,200 worshippers every year.

Last week, Air Force chaplains, including the branch’s top chaplain, led prayers and gave remarks. Members of the RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath combined choir sang hymns.

Standing at the cathedral’s altar, under its 142-foot-high octagon lantern, Brig. Gen. John Hesterman III, 48th Fighter Wing commander, greeted the worshippers to the special service.

“We’re coming together here to thank the Lord for the bounties and liberties that our two countries have,” he said.

“This cathedral has been a beacon of hope for everybody in this region for centuries. It also has been a beacon of light for those of us aviators trying to find our way home from the air.”

Widely known as the Ship of the Fens, the cathedral stands tall over the surrounding flat countryside and its lantern can often be seen glowing at night.

The key speaker, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles C. Baldwin, the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, went out of his way to fly from Washington, D.C., to take part in the hourlong service.

He asked the worshippers to thank God, no matter what religious denomination they were.

“We give him thanks for who he is and what he has done,” said Baldwin, who added that those present should be thankful for the freedoms of both countries and for their families, too.

He then offered three reasons to give thanks.

First, giving thanks turns fear into faith as fear can be a crippler.

Second, giving thanks turns strangers into friends. To do this, Baldwin suggested that one should be thankful to people they don’t know wherever they go, such as someone helping them at a store.

And finally, giving thanks turns pain into purpose since pain is something that cannot be avoided in life.

Following the service, worshippers were welcomed to mingle and enjoy the 150 Thanksgiving pies donated and purchased for the occasion.

“It’s such a rich heritage in the Air Force community that I just wanted to be a part of this service one more time,” Baldwin said in the middle of the socializing crowd. His first visit to the cathedral was three years ago.

As a veteran of many religious services, Baldwin thought this one is quite unusual since worshippers of many faiths came together inside of a British cathedral.

“It’s kind of a neat Thanksgiving moment,” he said.

Before leaving, Senior Airman Brian Ax, a computer maintenance technician for the 488th Intelligence Squadron, said he attended the service for two reasons.

“I came out here to see the cathedral and it’s nice to go to a Thanksgiving service,” said Ax.

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