A Non-Traditional Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering
For nearly a decade, members of the Newtown Interfaith Council have offered a well-received Interfaith Thanksgiving Gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving, hosted by different houses of worship each year.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s in-person event has become another 2020 event canceled due to the danger of groups gathering.
In place of that, The Newtown Bee reached out recently to members of the local interfaith council with an invitation to share readings, blessings, prayers, or messages of their choice. We thank those who responded, and offer them here to our readers.
The Reverend Lori Miller, pastor of Newtown United Methodist Church, was compelled to write this prayer:
We acknowledge you call us to be thankful even in this challenging time.
And so we thank you for learning that came from struggle and grace evident in trial.
We thank you for the opportunity to serve others and to build a community of the heart, even while physically separated.
We thank you for bringing us through, for encouraging us, for the promise that your everlasting love never fails.
Thank you, Lord.
The Most Celebrated Family Time
Reverend Jack Tanner has served as pastor for Newtown Christian Church since 1980. He offered the following:
I would guess that the most celebrated family time would be that of Thanksgiving. It has always been a time of celebration for me and my family for as long as I can remember.
Growing up, my uncles and cousins would meet at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And it was a large gathering, because my dad was one of 13 siblings! In any event, it was a great time of celebration for the Tanner family.
My wife and I have tried to continue that in our own family. And early on in the ministry with the Newtown Christian Church we would invite anyone who did not have family in the area or couldn’t make it home on any given year to be with their family.
This year, for us, and many others it may not be a time of large a gathering and celebration.
In the Christian faith we are admonished to “be thankful.”
“…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father…”—Ephesians 5:20 (New American Standard Bible)
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”—Colossians 3:17 (New American Standard Bible)
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”— I Thessalonians 5:18 (New American Standard Bible)
Giving thanks is one of the big things that God desires from us. But this year we struggle to say “Thanks God.” It has been a tough year to say the least!
Not to take away from that in any way, but it was a tough year for the first people who started the tradition of celebrating things for which they were thankful. Most of the people that came over from England had died. It was a tough time, yet the people in the Plymouth Colony in 1621, took time to give thanks and share what they had with one another.
William Bradford in his address in 1621 said that we should give thanks to God for what he has done for us even in the midst of the difficulties we faced.
John Chadwick once wrote a poem that went like this:
“I cried because I had no shoes.
until I met a man who had not feet.
O God forgive me when I whine.
I have two feet, the world is mine”
So, I thought, OK in the midst of this horrible year what do I have to be thankful for?
*One person having died from this virus is horrific, but I am thankful that it has not been the estimated 2 million that was projected to die in this country.
*I am thankful that people have stepped up to help each other in the midst of this terrible pandemic.
*I am thankful that people have done all they can to help with small businesses that are struggling.
*I am thankful for our local leaders. Although we may not agree with everything, they are doing what they can to make us safe.
*I am thankful, even though it is not the best way to learn, that technology has provided the teachers a way to continue to teach their students.
*And I am thankful that this same technology allows me to visit with my family and loved ones, even though I can’t be present with them.
The Psalmist says:
“1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For His mercy is everlasting..”—Psalm 107:1 (New American Standard Bible)
Hallo-Thanks-Advent-Mass: A Devotional
The Reverend Kristen Provost Switzer, minister of youth and mission at Newtown Congregational Church, wrote this devotional:
This fall, my family decided that we are going to celebrate a made up holiday that we’re calling Hallo-Thanks-Advent-Mas.
Hallo-Thanks-Advent-Mas begins whenever you want it to (ideally late September/early October) and ends around Epiphany on January 6th. It’s a mishmash of jack o’ lanterns, gratitude, and Christmas decorations. Celebrating this holiday properly and to its fullest involves dressing up in Halloween costumes (but not trick or treating), celebrating Thanksgiving the next weekend, and then the months of Christmas preparations and celebrating. It’s a peculiar holiday and if I’m being honest, I kind of hope that this is our family’s last Hallo-Thanks-Advent-Mas.
Hallo-Thanks-Advent-Mas is having a Halloween pizza party at home so we don’t get sick from trick or treating with our friends. It’s also explaining to a 3-year-old why we’re not trick or treating this year. It’s celebrating Thanksgiving on November 7 so that we don’t spread germs to grandparents as positive cases of COVID-19 increase in our community. It’s permission to celebrate Christmas in October even though that goes against everything that I learned in Seminary. It’s an intentional choice to celebrate all that is good during a time that is pretty darn awful.
I hope that you are able to find your Hallo-Thanks-Advent-Mas during this time. That is, that you are able to root your hearts and minds in gratitude and thanksgiving as we approach these holidays that might look and feel different this year. No matter what brings you peace and comfort during this time, be reminded that the God who loves us so very much dreams, grieves and celebrates with us, too, during this holiday season. And that is the good news of this season: that we will get through this together with God’s help and with the love and support of our resilient little town.
Happy Hallo-Thanks-Advent-Mas to you and yours.
More Than Words
Dr Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver, chaplain at Garner Correctional Institute, shared these thoughts and a poem he wrote:
Thanksgiving is a time of sharing gratitude. A time in which we put differences aside and we come together to enjoy the bounty and blessings of life.
In these times of pandemic when we can’t share a meal with our wider family, we often have just words and facsimiles of ourselves to offer. But, we know that words are not just words. They are vessels that carry so much; and they point to sacred places within with like the wilderness where the voice of God is usually heard away from city lights.
We should therefore think about what kind of words we want to share, because our words deliver things that can hurt or repair.
There is deep sorrow and struggle in the hearts of many today. And the prospect of conjuring up our gratitude on Thanksgiving when there is so much division in our country, may seem like words of a forgotten language.
Perhaps we can learn to speak that language again. Perhaps we can choose words that deliver healing, comfort, strength and friendship. In that spirit, I share a poem I wrote recently that describes how different words feel to me. Maybe it will increase awareness as to how words feel to you and how they feel to others.
Words of prose like food
Words of poetry like wine
Words of rebuke like fire
Words of love like songs
Words of instruction like maps
Words of spirituality like spacecrafts.
Words of hate like demons
Words of comfort like medication
Words of friendship like bridges
Words of advocacy like weapons
Words of forgiveness like reconstruction
Words of longing like wind
Words of confirmation like earth
Words of promises like fortresses
Words of lies like diseases
Words of truth like safe spaces
Words of conviction like mountains
Words of eternity like paradise.
A Thanksgiving Litany
The Reverend Andrea Wyatt, who recently became the Rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, responded to the invitation by sharing a brief message and a Thanksgiving reading from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Newtown,
On behalf of the people and staff of Trinity Episcopal Church, I wish you God’s peace in these extraordinary days, and all the blessings of this season of Thanksgiving. Please know we pray for those who will gather with family and friends, those who will gather virtually, and those will mark the holiday alone, or in grief.
We pray especially for all who suffer in this time of pandemic, that God’s comfort and healing will surround you.
In the midst of the losses and challenges of this year, may Thanksgiving be a time for each of us to ponder the gifts we receive from God, the relationships that sustain us, and the hope for a new future that nourishes us. May we find in community the connections we need to live with meaning and purpose!
I share a Thanksgiving Litany from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer as we celebrate the interfaith and ecumenical relationships that bind us together in this community. May our gratitude for our own blessings lead us to reach out to our neighbors in need.
Peace be with you.
A Litany of Thanksgiving
Let us give thanks to God our Creator for all the gifts so freely bestowed upon us.
For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, God.
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, God.
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, God.
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, God.
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, God.
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, God.
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, God.
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, God.
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord; To him be praise and glory, with you, O God, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.—(p. 836, Book of Common Prayer, The Episcopal Church)
Reading And Prayer
According to Pastor Rob Morris, of Christ the King Lutheran Church, a few portions of the Lutheran observance of Thanksgiving would include this reading and prayer:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Thanksgiving Collect (Prayer): Almighty God, Your mercies are new every morning and You graciously provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant us your Holy Spirit that we may acknowledge Your goodness, give thanks for Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience all our days; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
A Foundational Ethic
Eman Beshtawii, president of the Muslim Society of Greater Danbury, based at the Hedaya Center in Newtown, shared the following:
Shukr is a traditional word for thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciating a blessing and is a foundational ethic in Islam. It is a statement of humility, a statement of integrity and an act of worship — all evidence of true belief. Gratitude holds our communities together reinforcing the reality that there is good in everyone. Gratitude in our belief and tradition brings out the best in everyone. God commands us to be grateful to each other and He describes himself with one of his 99 names as “Al Shakoor” or the Most Appreciative, meaning “He who approves, or rewards, or forgives, much… He in whose estimation small, or few, works performed by His servants increase, and who multiplies His rewards to them.”
Shukr is the result of an internal state and a deep awareness and consciousness of God and His divine wisdom. A quality that is there all times and does not disappear at the time of difficulties and suffering.
In so many places in the Quran, Shukr is mentioned alongside the remembrance of God. In chapter two, Verse 152, God says “Therefore, remember Me [says God], [and] I will remember you. Give thanks to Me and do not be ungrateful.”
It has been narrated that when a pleasing event happened to prophet Muhammad, he would say, “Praise be to God for this blessing,” and when a distressing event happened to him, he would say, “Praise be to God at all times.”
While Shukr is described in many different ways in the Muslim tradition, the most commonly known is how prophet Muhammed described it: “He who does not thank his fellow men shows ingratitude towards God.”
During this difficult year of experiencing physical distancing and in this Thanksgiving spirit of gathering, let’s continue to be thankful, conscious and hopeful. Let’s reflect on God’s countless blessings that we enjoy and extend this blessing to others, uplift them and strengthen our bond with them, not just on one day, but every day of the year.
Imam Al-Ghazali, a famous scholar from the 11th Century said “Know that thankfulness is from the highest of stations — it is higher than patience, fear, and detachment of the world.”
May peace and blessing be with all of you and Happy Thanksgiving!
Margo Woodall, from Baha’i Faith of Newtown, offers the Baha’i Thanksgiving Reflection for our readers.
The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. That the diverse communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated.
The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The one true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words.—Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
O Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household. In Thy Holy Presence they are all Thy servants, and all mankind are sheltered beneath Thy Tabernacle; all have gathered together at Thy Table of Bounty; all are illumined through the light of Thy Providence. O God! Thou art kind to all, Thou hast provided for all, dost shelter all, conferrest life upon all. Thou hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties, and all are submerged in the Ocean of Thy Mercy.
O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home. May they all live together in perfect harmony.
O God! Raise aloft the banner of the oneness of mankind. O God! Establish the Most Great Peace. Cement Thou, O God, the hearts together.
O Thou kind Father, God! Gladden our hearts through the fragrance of Thy love. Brighten our eyes through the Light of Thy Guidance. Delight our ears with the melody of Thy Word, and shelter us all in the Stronghold of Thy Providence.
Thou art the Mighty and Powerful, Thou art the Forgiving and Thou art the One Who overlooketh the shortcomings of all mankind.—’Abdu’l-Bahá, Compilations, Baha’i Prayers