Ely, ENGLAND -- More than 1,000 U.S. servicemembers, families and British neighbors attended a church service on the Eve of Thanksgiving Wednesday at the historic Ely Cathedral.
The tradition originated in World War II when the British invited U.S. troops serving in nearby bases to use the cathedral as a place of worship during the American holiday.
"We like to extend the hand of friendship and invite them as much as possible. For some of them the cathedral becomes a home away from homes," said Sally Ann Ford, deputy operations manager for Ely Cathedral. "Over the years I've seen appreciation from servicemembers and I've also seen a growing number of locals who join in as well."
The Very Rev. Mark Bonney, dean of Ely Cathedral, said he was glad to see so many people come together to celebrate and give thanks.
Combined choirs from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall sang hymns. Air Force chaplains from both bases read from holy scripture and led prayers.
Guest speaker Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Dondi Costin, U.S. Air Force chief of chaplains, arrived Sunday from Washington with part of the chaplain core to visit with the troops in England and to deliver a special Thanksgiving message during the Ely service.
"It's a demonstration of partnership between the British and American forces as well as an opportunity for us to give thanks to God for all that he has done for us and both of our nations throughout the years," Costin told Stars and Stripes. "It's quite an honor for me to come and participate. This for me feels like coming home."
After the service, those attending were invited to a reception in the nave with pies and beverages donated by the Ely Cathedral staff and volunteers.
"We live here in town and it was a good opportunity to come experience service in a majestic place like this," said Chief Master Sgt. Phil Altpeter, fuels manager, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron. "I get to spend time with my family and share thanks. The free pie is always good."