Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Helping Families Say "Thank you" at the Thanksgiving Table

As families gather around Thanksgiving tables later this month, many will want to say “thank you” in some way. Those who do not practice mealtime prayers will be in unfamiliar territory. Those who do practice mealtime prayers will probably want something a little “more” for this meal. A church that offers both specific suggestions and encouragement helps them all. 

How to offer these seed ideas:  Imagine a conversation in which families share what they have done or what prayers they have prayed at their Thanksgiving tables in the past.  Or, what about a newsletter/website/Sunday bulletin article sharing these stories?  Would it be possible for a youth class to interview people to gather information for this article and then select their favorites for sharing with the whole congregation?  Could there be a chatroom on the church website in which church members could share Thanksgiving blessing stories and ask questions?  Could a staff person put together a list of ways to thank you at the table – even sample prayers or rituals or songs of gratitude?

To get you started, I am listing a few ideas and hoping that you will share others in the Comments.

* One person says a prayer they have thought about in advance expressing the family’s gratitude in words and ideas that will make sense to all the people at the table.

* Announce a day ahead a “round” of prayer.  Each person at the table is to prepare a short prayer stating their gratitude.  Each prays his prayer aloud following around the table.  If you hold hands, the pray-er squeezes the hand of the next person when she is done.  Conversations among family members as they prepare these prayers can be more important than the prayers themselves.

* Sing a Thanksgiving song together as your prayer.  If it will be a new song to some at the table, practice it together (maybe at meals?) earlier in the week.  Print a copy of words which children have decorated at each plate.  If the family includes one or more instrumentalists, ask them to accompany the family.  My first choices are “Now Thank We All Our God” and “We Plow the Seeds and Scatter” because they have easy words and ideas for children to sing.  Many of the traditional Thanksgiving hymns like “We Gather Together” and “Let All Things Now Living” are filled with poetic language that is hard for children to grasp without a lot of adult help.  Children’s sung blessings such as the two below are also good choices.

“For health and strength and daily bread we give thee thanks, O Lord.”

“For all your goodness Lord we give you thanks.  Thanks for the food we eat, and for the friends we meet.  For each new day we greet, we give you thanks.”

* Before singing the Doxology together, define “blessings” and brainstorm a list of the blessings of those at the table.  Then sing the song as your Thanksgiving prayer.

* If the family includes artists of any age, ask them to decorate paper napkins with drawings of things for which they are thankful.  Or, ask them to create a place card for each person at the table with a drawing or words of thanks on it.

**** Please add to the list.  We all need all the ideas we can get!

NOTE: It is possible and sometimes more meaningful to say the blessing at the end of the meal – while savoring the end of dessert and without worrying about taking time for the blessing without the food getting cold.  If some of the younger diners have left the table, they can be called back to share in this special time.

PS: remind families that just as we plan ahead to get the food on the table, we have to plan ahead for the expression of gratitude that goes with the feast.  Without preplanning both the food and the prayers can get lost in the shuffle.

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