Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Year B - Thanksgiving Day (October 12, 2015 in Canada) (November 26, 2015 in the United States)

I suspect that in both Canada and the US Thanksgiving worship happens in a variety of settings.  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.  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.

This word sheet may be used for non-commercial purposes.
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
I Sing the Mighty Power of God

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. 

This word sheet may be used for non-commercial purposes.

“We Plow the Seeds and Scatter” is a better harvest hymn.  It sets concrete harvest images to a simple tune.  Help children further by offering them illustrated word sheets and walking through the structure of the three verses before singing them.

“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 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.

(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.”  A seminary librarian told me that this is not true and is copyright infringement.  If you have information that proves one or the other, please share in comments.)

What songs would you add?

Good Thanksgiving Books to Read in Worship

Sometimes misreading a word opens the way to new possibilities.  In reading Thank You, God, for Everything, by August Gold, I read “journey” but thought “journal”.  That led me to see all the pages that followed as pages in Daisy’s journal with each one thanking God for different things.  That leads me to wonder about giving children (all worshipers?) small empty notebooks and colored pens or pencils with which to add pictures and words about things for which they are thankful.  It could be a great worship art project.  Invite worshipers to add to it as they sing and pray their ways through the service.  If you do this, be sure to ask children to show you at least one page of their work as they leave the sanctuary.  Encourage families to share their “Thank you God for Everything” journals when they get home.  (You may or may not need to read any or all of Thank You, God, for Everything in worship.)

The journals could be small purchased notebooks or several pieces of paper folded in half and nested together (maybe held by a staple or tied ribbon.)

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.

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.  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

Especially if it is the beginning of Thanksgiving week, assign worship 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.)

In the congregation’s prayers include prayers for the long holiday weekend.  Some children are looking forward to seeing extended family members. Others are dreading a boring, nothing special holiday.  Those excited about family gatherings often face undesired seating assignments at “the feast,” uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and long trips in cramped cars.  All are worthy of prayer.

Commenters in in past years suggested the following:

One of my favorite 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.

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."

~  Above is a YouTube video that expresses it thanks in very intergenerational pictures and simple words. Thank you Hubert Den Draak.

Help families prepare ways to say thank you to God at their feast by providing a list of suggestions.  Go to Helping Families Say Thank You at the Thanksgiving Table
for a starter list.

This Year’s Texts

Joel 2:21-27

Often when children list things for which they are thankful they jokingly list lots of seemingly silly things.  So for grateful fun, pick up on Joel’s call for the soil to be glad and rejoice with a “thank God for dirt” discussion.  List all sorts of wonderful things about dirt
Ø Mud pies
Ø Good smell of freshly plowed dirt
Ø All the worms, snails, etc that live in dirt and help enrich it
Ø It turns seeds into flowers, trees, and food
Ø Clay that makes jars, mugs, even bricks with which to build houses
Ø Minerals we use for medicines
Then reread verse 21.  From there you can jump to Matthew’s flowers of the field.

Repeat the process with animals and Matthew’s birds of the air.

Psalm 126

Before reading this psalm, list together what makes for a bad year (bad harvests, storms, illness, violent events, feeling stuck in unhappy places, etc.) and what makes a good year (good harvests, great vacations, a good year at school, a new job, etc.)  Note that Thanksgiving comes in both the good and bad years.  Introduce this psalm as a good one to remember in all the years.  Verses 1-3 recall how it felt to be thankful in a really good year (after they had returned from Exile).  Verses 4-6 are filled with hope during a bad year that the good years will return.  To emphasize giving thanks in both good and bad years, have each half of the psalm read by a different half of the congregation.  The reading groups might be the choir and the congregation or two halves of the congregation.

I Timothy 2:1-7

Paul instructs Timothy to lead his people in praying for community and national leaders.  Children miss out on such prayers when they are voiced in broad general terms.  To help them join in…

Together make a big scribble on a poster.  Write the names of a leader or governing body in each section.  Then go through the list identifying prayers for each one.

In an “eyes-open prayer” display pictures of people, locations, even events from the last year.  Offer prayers for each one being specific.  This could be a matter of projecting pictures for all to see as a prayer leader prays about them.  Or, it could be a prayerful discussion with the children or the whole congregation.

Paul begins with a call to prayer for leaders.  In this election season with all the trash talking about leaders, have a respectful conversation and prayer with children about civic leaders.  Together name some local, state and national leaders and list some of the jobs they do.  You may also want to add people who are running for office.  With the children, identify some prayers for our leaders, then offer those prayers. 

Commentators point out that the leaders Timothy and his friends were to pray for were Romans who were trying to kill as many Christians as possible.  In a polarized nation and world this is a call to pray for people with whom we agree and for people with whom we disagree.  Create a responsive prayer in which the worship leader describes a person or group on one side of an issue and then the leader or group on the other side.  After each petition the congregation adds, “Lord, bless them and keep us living together in peace.”  Pray for countries on different sides of international conflicts, political leaders, and local groups.

The Christological hymn describing Christ as the mediator is hard for children to understand.  First, they need a definition of mediator.  Then, they need help to get around the idea that God is big and scary and Jesus is the good guy who helps us deal with God.  On Thanksgiving I’d simply read this part without drawing much attention to it.

Matthew 6:25-33

Shel Siverstein wrote the very opposite of this text and thanksgiving thinking in the poem “Whatif?”  It begins “Last night as I lay thinking here, some whatifs crawled into my ear, and pranced and partied all night long, and sang their same old Whatif song:”  The rest of the poem is a list of all the wacky things we worry about unnecessarily such as
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif my head grows smaller?
Find the poem on the internet.  Read it taking time to enjoy it with facial expressions and pauses.  Then invite worshipers to hear what Jesus says about the whatifs in this text.

Adults worry about aging.  Children worry about growing up.  If they play basketball, they want to be tall enough.  If they are a dancer or gymnast, they want to be small enough.  All want to grow up to be good looking. 

Show pictures of baby animals and adults animals.  Marvel at how they change.  End with pictures of humans at different ages.  Note that God has a different plan for each one – and that God’s plans are good.

Read and enjoy the opening of Peter Spier’s picture book People.  Skip all the information on the opening page.  Start with “We come in all sizes and shapes…” and read through “All of us want to look our best.  Still what is considered beautiful or handsome in one place is considered ugly, and even ridiculous, elsewhere.”  Point to and briefly enjoy all the differences in the pictures.  Do be aware that this book was published in 1980 and so includes some cultural distinctions that are no longer accepted.  So focus on the pictures rather than the verbal country identifications on the page about clothing.  Then reread verse 25 and connect it to all the Spier drawings. 

Ask children’s classes to prepare banners by pasting birds and/or flowers and/or people all over a large swath of paper or cloth.  There may be one banner with all massed together or three separate banners.  For a community service children from several churches could gather the pictures and turn them over to children/adults of one of the churches to put together.  Adults could mount the banners on poles for older children to carry in during an opening processional.  Plan for them to be displayed throughout the service.

Saying thank you is a way of recognizing the one who gives the gift.  On Thanksgiving we name God as the giver of the blessings of the world.  I Sing the Mighty Power of God names many of the wonders of the world and names God as the one who gives each one.  Point this out before singing the hymn.  Encourage children to sing from the illustrated word sheet and to add in the margins words or drawings of other things God creates. 

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