Today in the USA, folks are gathering and turkeys are going in the oven and people across the land are settling in for a festive four-day weekend. No, they’re not doing Christmas four weeks early. It’s our national day set aside to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy.
Even though it has only been a national holiday since 1863, it harks back to a feast held in 1621 by the Mayflower colonists in Plymouth, Mass. to mark their survival over a harsh winter and the first successful harvest in their new land. They were probably continuing the tradition of Harvest Festival that they had known in England. The native peoples had been hospitable and helped them understand new crops and creatures (including corn and turkeys) so they were part of the feast. From that time on, various national days of “Thanksgiving to Almighty God” were proclaimed at particular points. But it was as the Civil War was nearing its end that President Abraham Lincoln decreed it should be celebrated annually toward the end of November to help bring the divided nation back together by focusing on gratitude.
The day following traditionally marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, though there as here, that has crept earlier and earlier. Besides eating, the main activities are watching parades and/or football and catching up with friends and family. In my parishes, many of us came together for a “church family” Thanksgiving feast with each household bring a dish special to them. One year, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we even had as our unexpected guests a large Navajo family whose van had broken down, thus replicating the mix of natives and colonists some 160 years later and 2000 miles further west! In that parish we also made “takeaway” feasts to deliver to the homebound who could not access any of the free meals often provided on that day by churches and community groups.
I like that “thanksgiving” is a single word because it is a reminder that, even as we must be grateful for all we have received, we must also show that gratitude by sharing with others.
The Revd Canon Robbin Clark, Dean of Women Clergy
Sam and Monty have been touching people’s hearts – making some people some people cry, apparently! For those of you who haven’t seen the latest John Lewis TV advert for Christmas, Sam is a little boy who has a best friend called Monty, who is a penguin. They are inseparable. Sam thinks he knows just what Monty is dreaming of for Christmas… something that will make one little penguin’s perfect Christmas day. And on 25 December, Monty is presented with Mabel, another penguin and everyone cries with joy. At long last, Monty has a friend of his own kind.
The reason this advert touches people’s hearts, is, I believe, because we recognise how precious friendship is and perhaps it touches us so deeply because many of us yearn for that sort of friendship and closeness. It’s all very well someone telling you that they have 2000 friends on facebook, but scratch the surface and you find that they don’t have many real friends because they spend so much of their time on social media, stuck alone in a room. We’re often told that elderly people are lonely because no one has any time to visit them or include them in conversations. At this time of the year, single/widowed/divorced people often feel their “alone-ness” even more keenly as Christmas approaches.
Who do we know who lives alone? Could you deliberately carve out half an hour to call on someone who lives alone? As for Monty, he now has Mabel. I hope Sam found some other (human) friends as well!
The Revd Canon Jane Kenchington, Area Dean of Wotton & Rector of the Sodbury Vale Benefice
The topic of work is never far from the headlines. Just in the last week: the National Apprenticeship Awards, the fall in unemployment, the CBI’s call for a rise in living standards. But our church communities often have a blind spot when it comes to the world of work. People come through our doors on Sunday, but we tend to ignore what they do with their time and talents for the rest of the week – unless they are an accountant, in which case we swiftly recruit them as our treasurer. We might praise the caring professions as “worthwhile” and gloss over the rest. Or we reduce the work place to a “mission field”, simply encouraging people to share their faith with colleagues.
I think it’s time we got a lot more creative about our “theology of work” – how we understand work as part of God’s purpose for us. Like any proud parent, God is delighted when we use our talents and gifts, and flourish in our work. And God delights in the flourishing of human society: our families, our communities and our world. So let’s start to embrace our jobs as part of God’s plan, whether that’s IT or hairdressing, investment banking or painting and decorating. Our workforce creates jobs and prosperity. It connects us, feeds us, informs us, entertains us, provides hospitality and care, and so much more. And all of this uses the God-given talents we need to celebrate, supporting others to fulfil their potential in God’s world.
The Revd Poppy Hughes, Parish Priest for Tetbury, Beverston, Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne
In a recent episode of Doctor Who (the one with all the trees for the aficionados), he said “The human superpower is forgetting…” At this time of year, it feels like that couldn’t be further from the truth! We do an awful lot of remembering – within the church we remember all the saints and our own loved ones who have gone before us; we even “remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot“; and of course we stop for two minutes’ silence to remember all those whose lives have been lost in war. This year that will be particularly poignant as we commemorate the beginning of the First World War, with no veterans left who fought in it, but instead a carpet of 888, 246 red poppies for every lost British and Commonwealth serviceman at the Tower of London.
Doctor Who went on to say “if you remembered how things felt, you’d have stopped having wars…” It cannot fully honour the memory and sacrifice of those who died if we do nothing to prevent such loss of life again. It might seem strange to commemorate the beginning of a war, but unless we are more aware of how they start, we are powerless to stop them. We must learn the lessons of the past, and listen to and love one another, sometimes needing the courage to lay down our weapons first. There are ultimately no winners in wars. So yes, remember, but also act and pray for a better world for the generations yet to come – one where war is only a distant memory.
Revd Rosie Woodall, Priest-in-Charge of Bisley, Chalford, France Lynch and Oakridge, and of Bussage with Eastcombe