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The original purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday was a time to give thanks to God. In Canada and the United States, the proclamations which established the national holidays suggested reasons for giving thanks. In Canada, it was for the blessings of God bestowed on the citizens of Canada. In the United States, President George Washington gave many reasons, which you can read about in Pres. Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, including God's kind care, liberty and the dissemination of useful knowledge. With freedom of religion, citizens were invited to render thanks and praise to God according to the customs of their own faiths and the dictates of their own conscience. Today many faiths offer services with the theme of thanksgiving and gratitude, and a new form of expression is evolving as well, an interfaith service for the community to participate together. You will find an example of an interfaith service here. Look for thanksgiving worship services in your community on the Sabbath before Thanksgiving Day, on the evening before Thanksgiving, and on the morning of Thanksgiving Day.
Interfaith Thanksgiving Worship Service: Gratitude for Simple Gifts
Please feel free to present or adapt this service or its individual sections in your formal or informal worship. The author would be interested and honored to hear your story of its use (cnovak@TahoeEpiscopal.org).
This 30-minute worship service was first celebrated on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2010, at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Incline Village, Nevada. Rev. Clare Novak wrote this interfaith liturgy and served as worship leader with St. Patrick’s rector, Rev. Dr. Jim Beebe. The service, patterned on the Episcopal liturgy but drawing on many faith traditions, lifts up and encourages the universal practice of daily appreciation for simple gifts.
The service requirements are very simple, also. No musical accompaniment or ritual elements are needed, simply a basket of apples and copies of the responsive prayers for participants. Hymn numbers refer to the Episcopal hymnal, although the songs suggested are quite familiar ones and were sung a cappella. The service as written requires two leaders (noted below as L1 & L2), although more people could serve as readers, if desired. A collection was taken at this service; this is optional, although appropriate, for a service focused on giving.
Rev. Novak used the following sources to inspire and inform this service. The bulletin insert mentioned gave these references so that participants could continue exploring new practices of gratitude:
~ Rev. Clare C. Novak, Interfaith Minister, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Incline Village, NV (www.tahoeepiscopal.org)
THANKSGIVING WORSHIP SERVICE
Before service: Place table at rear of worship space with a basket of apples and the collection plate (if desired). L1 & L2 give everyone who arrives a greeting, a copy of the service, and an apple.
L1 announces singing of Hymn 554: “Simple Gifts.” L1 & L2 come up the aisle: L2 carries basket of remaining apples and places it on altar; L1 carries Hymnal. Both then stand at opening of rail.
L1 The Lord be with you.
All And also with you.
L2 Lift up your hearts.
All We lift them to the Lord.
L1 Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All It is right to give God thanks and praise.
L2: We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of the earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains, and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We give you thanks for the return of seedtime and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all the other blessings you have given us, our nation, and all people. May we continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen. [Book of Common Prayer]
Please be seated.
The First Thanksgiving?
L1: Welcome to our interfaith Thanksgiving service. However you arrive this morning—tired or energized; hungry or full; clear or distracted; joyful or sad—we receive you with love, and thank you for being here.
This day honors a three-day celebration in fall 1621 that was also interfaith. But calling it the “First Thanksgiving” is not quite accurate. Here’s what we know from the single eye-witness account by the English colonist Edward Winslow, read by Jim. And what we understand about the long-standing gratitude traditions of both the English and the Native People who came together.
L2: Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.
L1: Asmall harvest of native corn followed a very difficult first year for the Plymouth colonists. Added to the modest fruit of their labors was a rich abundance of foods found in nature: berries, wild grapes, fish, shellfish, deer, wild turkey, and thousands of geese and ducks migrating back to the area.
L2: They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company for almost a week.
L1: The colonists’ celebration was a harvest feast or harvest “home”—traditional in many agricultural societies. But the English would not have recognized this event as a “thanksgiving.” For them, a “thanksgiving” was a purely religious day of solemn prayer and worship to thank God for a special blessing. This event was all about feasting and recreation, the beginning of the “fat” time of the year with more good food and less strenuous work.
L2: At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their great king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, . . .
L1: The town of Plymouth was in the heart of the homeland of the native Wampanoag People, who came to investigate the sound of gunshots as a possible attack. For them, the colonists’ celebration fell within Keepunumuk, the time of harvest. For generations, the Native People had also held ceremonies to give thanks to the Creator for successful harvests and to bless the next growing season. In fact, giving thanks was the primary reason for all ceremonies and celebrations in their faith.
L2: . . .and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.
L1: This ceremonial presentation of the five deer was essential to the peace-making diplomacy taking place in this interfaith harvest celebration. Exchanging gifts has always been the Wampanoag language of respect and friendship.
L2: And though it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Appreciation: Enjoying Daily Gifts
L1: Giving thanks for the goodness of God was very ordinary to the English Puritans, as it was to the Wampanoag People. Gratitude was woven into every aspect of Native American life and faith. Not only at harvesttime, but every day, in every small act of hunting or gathering, the Wampanoag acknowledged and gave thanks to the Creator for each simple gift.
Then, as now, this daily practice of appreciation goes hand in hand with enjoying life. And with being close to God. If we slow down and become fully aware of our daily gifts—not just the feast, but the single, red apple—we begin to truly live in God’s grace.
I invite you now into a short meditation on the gift of the apple in your hand. I’ll guide you with my voice, in and out, and throughout, this meditation. If you haven’t done something like this before, please give it a try, and let me know about your experience at the end of our service.
First, just relax . . . settling fully into your body . . . close your eyes . . . and allow your attention to gather in your breath. . . . Feel your breath coming in and going out, gently by itself, deep within your body. No force, no strain. . . . Simply allow yourself to rest back, and be carried on the gentle rhythm of your breath.
From this calm, centered place, imagine yourself walking into a freshly mowed apple orchard in early spring. Feel a soft, warm wind blowing against your face. As you walk, you find yourself particularly drawn to one old apple tree, standing in the full sunlight, its branches just beginning to wake up from winter with new growth and new leaves.
You settle back against its trunk, where you are held without effort in a place of safety and peace, rooted like the tree to the rich soil beneath you. Feel yourself falling into the orchard’s warm embrace, the warm embrace of God. Breathe God’s love deeply into your heart. Draw God’s strength up into your feet from the fertile ground below you. Rest here.
As time slowly unfolds, you see buds begin to form on the branches sheltering you, buds that gradually open into a cloud of delicate, white flowers. Hear the bees buzzing between the flowers, dancing in a pulse of life all around you, pollinating each white flower, feeding off the sweet nectar. Listen. Wait.
Summer comes, and the flower petals fall around you in a shower of white. Summer sun and rain swell the flowers’ fertile ovaries into a new shape. See the innermost part grow into a seed core. See the outer wall transform into miraculous molecules, full of vitamins, minerals, and health-giving nutrients, a fruit whose flesh is crisp, juicy, and sweet—expanding with Divine energy.
Feel your heart swell as this apple grows larger before your eyes, day by day. See it ripen in color as well as size, changing from light green to marvelous red. The old tree’s branches begin to bend under the weight of its luscious fruit. Many seasons of growth have led to this one, precious harvest.
Now the air cools, and the fall wind begins to stir your hair. Reach up, and pick just one, sweet, red apple. Soon many people will enter your quiet orchard to gather its bounty. Imagine their hands gently taking all the apples from the tree’s branches and placing them into large, wooden crates. Imagine other hands carrying these heavy crates from orchard, to tractor, to truck, to market for other hands to select, taste, and enjoy.
Your hand holds just one sweet, red apple—a beautiful gift from the orchard’s air, sun, soil, and water; a miraculous gift from an old tree and its friendly bees; a perfect gift from a loving God. Allow your mind to enter into its seed core and feel its energy of new life. Energy in perfect harmony with every one of God’s creations.
Now take a deep breath . . . Begin to bring your awareness back to this room. Become aware of your physical surroundings. Move or stretch as you need to . . . and when you’re ready, open your eyes.
Let us pray together the “Prayer of Thanks for Creation” in your bulletin.
All: Great and Eternal Mystery of Life, Creator of All Things, I give thanks for the beauty You put in every single one of Your creations. I am grateful that You did not fail in making every stone, plant, creature, and human being a perfect and whole part of the Sacred Hoop. I am grateful that You have allowed me to see the strength and beauty of All My Relations. My humble request is that all of the Children of Earth will learn to see the same perfection in themselves. May none of Your human children doubt or question Your wisdom, grace, and sense of wholeness in giving all of Creation a right to be living extensions of Your perfect love. [”Prayer of Thanks for Creation,” Native American tradition]
Contentment: Living in Peace
L1: Through gratefulness, we say yes to life. We say yes to God. We fully respond to each given moment and all its simple and complex blessings: the red apple, the hot coffee, the favorite sweater; the car that starts, the friend that calls, the sun that shines. We make a choice to focus on what it is that we love about life. Even, and especially, when times are tough.
Because by focusing on God’s gifts at all times, we take less for granted. Consume less. Fear less. Open our hearts more. Find our connection to all things and in all things. This is a core message in all faith traditions: our contentment and true peace in life rest on giving thanks to God.
Please stand for our Prayers of the People from many faiths. We begin by singing the Doxology from the Christian tradition, Hymn 380, Verse 3 in your Hymnal:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly Host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
L2: In peace, we pray to you, God of a thousand names, lifting up now our special needs and concerns, out loud or in silence.
[Pause for responses from congregation]
L1: God is the Father, Earth the Mother. With all things and in all things, we are relatives. [Sioux, Native American]
All: Thank you for the gift of this life.
L2: As the radiant sun shines upon all regions above, below, and across, so does the glorious one God of love protect and guide all creatures. [Buddhism]
All: Thank you for the gift of this life.
L1: God provides everyone with his daily food; why, O man, art thou afraid? [Sihkism]
All: Keep us aware of your loving care.
L2: Contentment is the root of happiness, and discontent the root of misery. [Hinduism]
All:Keep us aware of your loving care.
L1: Every little yielding to anxiety is a step away from the natural heart of man. [Shintoism]
All: Keep us aware of your loving care.
L2: Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. [Christianity, Matthew 6:25–26]
All: God, give us peace in our hearts.
L1: A tranquil mind gives life. [Judaism, Proverbs 14:30]
All:God, give us peace in our minds.
L2: There can never be peace between nations until it is first known that true peace is within the souls of men. [Oglala Sioux, Native American]
All: God, give us peace in our souls.
All: Let us know peace.
For as long as the moon shall rise,
For as long as the rivers shall flow,
For as long as the sun shall shine,
For as long as the grass shall grow,
Let us know peace. [Cheyenne, Native American]
L2: And now in the tradition of St. Patrick’s, I invite you all to exchange greetings of peace. And in a new twist, I invite you to exchange apples with each person you greet.
Peace be always with you.
All: And also with you.
Generosity: Giving from Your Heart
L1: Please be seated. Again, welcome and Happy Thanksgiving! Would anyone like to share anything today?
Before we close, I’d like to call your attention to the insert in your bulletin. Because gratitude is a universal spiritual practice, there are many wonderful ways to bring it into your daily life. Many of us say grace over meals, but we can give thanks whenever we start a new day or activity. Or we can use a repeated action like starting a car or turning on a light to trigger prayer. Or we can keep a simple daily gratitude journal. I’ve listed a few books and websites full of ideas from all faiths.
Scientific research is also underscoring all the benefits of grateful living, as shown in Robert Emmons’ book, listed here. According to his work, practicing gratitude makes us healthier and lowers the risk of many common disorders, like depression and high blood pressure. Really important in these hard times, grateful living makes us feel less alone in our struggles and fears, more connected to the flow of life. And it’s a key component for personal happiness: love, compassion, and hope for the future.
Because it directs our view outward, gratitude also makes us more generous toward others. When we know we are living in God’s abundance, we are more willing to give. If you wish to make an offering today, we will accept it gratefully for the United Thank Offering, described on the other side of your insert. You may leave your gift in the collection plate in the back of the church as you leave.
Finally, I invite you to share your apple with someone else: as part of your Thanksgiving dinner or centerpiece, as a gift to a coworker, friend, or teacher; as an offering to the birds or squirrels. Let’s keep our circle of thanks going!
And now, to circle back to the wisdom of the 17th-century Puritans, we close with this Harvest Prayer.
L2: Let us pray.
Please be gentle with yourself and others.
We are all children of chance,
And none can say why some fields blossom
While others lay brown beneath the harvest sun.
Take hope that your season will come.
Share the joy of those whose season is at hand.
Care for those around you.
Look past your differences.
Their dreams are no less than yours,
Their choices in life no more easily made.
Give in any way you can.
Give in every way you can.
Give whatever you possess.
Give from your heart.
To give is to love.
To withhold is to wither.
Care less for the size of your harvest
than for how it is shared,
And your life will have meaning
And your heart will have peace.
[Anonymous 17th-Century Sermon]
L1: The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.
[Birkat Kohanim (Hebrew Priestly Blessing), Numbers 6:24–26]