Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Year A - Thanksgiving Day

Apologies to y’all in Canada for posting this when it is of no use at all this year.  But I also have a question – should an Virginia resident presume that she has anything to offer Canadians about their celebration?  Are the US and Canadian Thanksgivings similar or different in subtle, but important ways?  If you are here, speak up in the Comments. 

Even in the US Thanksgiving worship happens in a variety of settings.  I’m guessing some will read these texts at community services.  Others might use them on the Sunday before Thanksgiving (ditching the Christ the King/Reign of Christ texts).  And, who knows how others will use them.  Again, leave a Comment and tell the rest of us how you will use them.

General Thanksgiving Ideas

Involving children in community services is a good way to draw a crowd and to introduce children to their community’s religious base.  Anything that works on Sunday morning will work at a community service.  Particularly good ideas include:

-          Have the children in classes in participating congregations illustrate hymns that will be sung.  Scan their drawings and project them during the singing.

-          Include children’s choirs in the singing.  Either gather children in all the churches into one choir or invite several children’s choirs to sing at different points in the service.  The former requires at least one rehearsal which can be a minus (another meeting) and a plus (chance for children to sing with friends in other congregations and to be in at least one of their buildings).  The latter requires no extra gatherings, but can turn into a choir competition – not terribly conducive to giving thanks.

-          What have you seen well done?

Thanksgiving music for children

-          Before singing the Doxology, invite all the children to meet you at the front.  Note that you are about to sing a song that begins, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  Define “blessings” as those things that are so good they make us happy to be alive.  Name one or two of your blessings, then ask the children to name a few of theirs.  (And, yes video games are blessings to certain people.  So, don’t let the congregation laugh at them!)  Then send the children back to their seats to join the congregation in singing the song praising God for all their blessings.

-          In advance get children (maybe in their classes) to draw illustrations of the verses or even phrases of one or more of the songs you will sing.  Scan them and project them while the song is being sung.  Probably the best songs to illustrate are
For the Beauty of the Earth
All Things Bright and Beautiful

-          The old standard Thanksgiving hymns (“Come, Ye Thankful People Come” and “We Gather Together to Ask The Lord’s Blessing”)are not easy for children.  They are filled with unfamiliar vocabulary and metaphorical harvest images.  Older adults learned them at school when they were growing up.  Children today do not. 

-          “We Plow the Seeds and Scatter” is a better harvest hymn.  It sets concrete harvest images to a simple tune. 

-          “Now Thank We All Our God” is a more general thanksgiving hymn children can sing at least parts of.

-          “Grateful,” a song by John Bucchino, is illustrated in a book of the same name that comes with a CD of Art Garfunkel singing the song.  One way to use it in worship is to scan and project the pages, teach the congregation the chorus, then listen to Garfunkel sing joining him on the chorus as the book is projected.  (The seminary professor I saw do this, said she felt she was OK on copyright grounds since she bought the book and absolutely refused to lend her power point of it – “even to my very best friend on a desperate night.”)  The third verse is the most child accessible.  I would start there to introduce the song and define “grateful.”  Many of the ideas in the other verses are beyond the experience of children.

-          What songs would you add?

The Secret of Saying Thanks, by Douglas Wood, insists that giving thanks makes us happy.  “We cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.”  “We don’t give thanks because we’re happy.  We are happy because we give thanks.”  The book can be read in about 8 minutes.  With a small group sharing the pictures as you read is the way to go.  With a larger group, bring props (a big yellow paper sun, a flower, a tree leaf, a rock, a stuffed animal -a bird if you can find one, a shiny silver star cutout, a bottle of water, and a big red paper heart) to display or hand to people nearby as you read the pages about the things which lead us to be thankful.

This is the only Thanksgiving story book I can suggest for use in congregational worship.  I checked out Barnes and Nobles – yech!  And the public library is all about pilgrims and Indians.  Do any of you have favorites to suggest?

Thanksgiving begins with noticing what is all around you.  It is easy to overlook our blessings.  Remind worshipers of Moses noticing the burning bush, stopping to look at it, and meeting God there.  If you used the Moses display earlier in the fall, bring out the candle that you lighted each week to remember the burning bush story.  Then read and discuss Elizabeth Barrett Browning famous poem.
“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Finally, provide paper and crayons or markers for children (and older worshipers) to write poems or draw pictures of where they see God all around them.

Especially if it is the beginning of Thanksgiving week, assign homework.  Encourage households or individuals living alone to take time once each day this week to list things for which they are thankful.  Suggest that they do it at the same time each day – before or after a meal, at bedtime, whenever works.  Households turn it into a prayer by saying together “we thank you, God” after each thing is named by each person.  Individuals can add the phrase as they identify their blessings.  (If you want, admit that you hope that by doing this every day for a week, people will decide to keep doing it.  You are encouraging a simple daily prayer practice.)

Thanksgiving Day Texts

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Children will not follow this story as it is read straight through.  To help them reread it as follows:

Ask them (and all worshipers) to close their eyes and see with their imaginations each thing you read about in verses 7-10.  Read slowly pausing between phrases.  Conclude with comments about the good land Moses’ people were entering and the good land in which you live.

If you focused on the Moses story earlier in the fall, go phrase by phrase through verses 14 – 16 recalling the stories to which they connect.

Finally, read verses 11-14b and 17-18 and restate Moses’ warning to those people and to us. 

Psalm 65

This is not the most familiar psalm of Thanksgiving.  Children (and older worshipers) need help identifying the things for which the psalmist is thankful.  So, print it for everyone to see and call for people to point out the things for which the psalmist thanks God.  Don’t let them overlook verse 1’s thanks that God is!  That sets you up to watch for things God does.  After working through the psalm this way, read it aloud in unison or read it aloud with words available for all to follow.

Print the psalm in large print for children and invite them to underline all the things for which the psalmist is thankful and then illustrate the psalm with drawings of those things and others that they would add.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Decorate the central table with a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables which God provides.  Bank the table with canned foods that we create using the fresh foods God gave us.  Send all to the area food bank after worship.  Before reading this text, point to this display asking worshipers to listen for its connection to Paul’s message.  Afterwards explore the connection between the gifts on the top of the table and those stacked around the sides.  (Paul said grateful people found ways to share God's with others.)

Grant Wood, "American Gothic."
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Display this famous picture and ask worshipers to imagine eating dinner with this couple.  Go on to imagine Thanksgiving dinner or a birthday party.  Then read verse 8 asking what Paul might be telling this couple.  You might also offer one or more pictures of very open, happy couples to compare.

Luke 17:11-19

Before reading the scripture gather 10 “lepers” at the front.  The lepers might be a collection of folks of different ages – including at least one child.  Or, they might come from a single class of older children, youth, or adults.  As the lepers come forward pose each one handing them, even wrapping them in props that describe the life of lepers.  You will need several big cloth bandages to wrap around limbs.

1.      Instruct one to wrap up an arm as you describe the open, oozing sores. 
2.      Tie a bandage around the head of another, explaining that the sores could show up anywhere, even on your head. 
3.      Put a sticky bandage across another’s nose and imagine what it would feel like if you had sores right in the middle of your face. 
4.      Wrap a bandage vertically around one’s head covering the ears noting that sometimes the sores on ones ears made the ears fall off completely.
5.      Have another make a fist and wrapped it up in a bandage as you point out that fingers often got so diseased that they fell off. 
6.      Hand another a crutch or cane and bend one leg up so their toe just balances on the floor, noting that toes also fell off. 
7.      Tell one to put his/her hands out in the stay away gesture telling how contagious leprosy is and noting that people had to live away from town, often in caves. 
8.      Get another down on knees with hands outstretched to beg explaining that the only way they could get food was for people to bring it to them.  Note that some families regularly brought food to a family member living with the lepers, but others had to beg from passers-by. 
9.      Throw a larger raggedly piece of cloth around the shoulders of another pointing out that they were also dependent on others to bring them clothes which meant they were often wearing dirty ragged clothes.
10.  Sit one down on the floor facing away from everyone with head in hands looking down.  Imagine how discouraged and sad one would get living this way, often for years, with no hope of getting better.

Either pose the lepers then read the story, thank the lepers, and send them back to their seats. 


Involve the lepers in telling the rest of the story.  (This will require one brief rehearsal with the lepers.)

Point out that one day all these lepers saw Jesus coming.  Knowing that he had cured people with many diseases they called out to him saying “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Ask several of the lepers or people in the congregation to say the phrase the way they think the lepers would have said it.  Instruct the lepers to be ready to say the phrase when it appears in the story.  Then go to the lectern to read the story.  Point to the lepers to call out in verse 13.  All lepers then all move slowly off toward the side in verse 14.  The tenth leper who was discouraged slowly turns and comes back to the center facing the reader, kneels and raises his or her arms in praise.  The reader takes the role of Jesus, stepping toward the leper, reciting verses 17-19 while holding out a hand to the leper, pulling him to his feet, and turning him to join the others.  The leper walks off.  The reader turns to the congregation to say “The Word of the Lord.”

Go to Year C - Proper 23, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time which includes the story about the ten lepers for ideas about identifying blessings.  Also, see more general thanksgiving suggestions at the beginning of this post.


  1. You make an excellent point about not letting children be laughed at. In our (pre-school) Junior Church we open every session by asking what the children are thankful for, and then singing "Thank you Lord for this fine day" (https://www.communityofcelebration.com/zen-cart/media/Thank_you_Lord.mp3), adding lines to the song according to what children have said. We have given thanks for McDonald's, and even for the ceiling of our room. Why not? As you say, "Thanksgiving begins with noticing what is all around you."

  2. I wrote the lectionary links for this Sunday, and I included a book called "The Most Thankful Thing", which could be a possibility for reading.
    Here's a link:

  3. My favorite Thanksgiving book is not really about the holiday: The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor (Antheneum, 1994) is about a young girl who thinks her parents need jobs that make more money, but after a conversation around a favorite table she sees that not all riches are monetary. A beautiful story about seeing the value in the good things around us.

  4. I made a - I hope beautiful - graphic of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem for my wife. She loved it. I think you could use it, too. You may view/download it here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/21568294/earth-is-crammed.jpg

  5. Brian, It is beautiful - lucky wife!

    If any of us use it in worship, we need to consider the fact that many children will not be able to read the gorgeous font. Did you know that many schools are dropping the teaching of cursive writing entirely?!? In a digital age, it is no longer "necessary." The world is indeed changing!

  6. Although it is two years ago, let me add a hello from Canada and assure you that we enjoy similar harvest celebrations to those in the US, minus the pilgrims (some trace our Thanksgiving tradition back to Frobisher). One of my favourite times with the children was the year we learned how to say "Thank you" in many languages from our congregation, and ended by using those words for our prayer together: Dear God, thank you for your good gifts. Merci. Danke. Gratias. Molte grazie! In Jesus we pray, amen.

  7. The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are more closely connected to the traditions of Europe than of the United States. Long before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place in Europe in the month of October. The very first Thanksgiving celebration in North America took place in 1578 in Canada when Martin Frobisher, an explorer from England. in search of the Northwest Passage. He wanted to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World.
    But we of N.A. are all grateful for all that is provided, the good earth, the seed, the sower, the reaper, and all those who ensure this earth is fed - to the God of your understanding be praise.


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