Thanksgiving Season Worship: From Everywhere to Everywhere
As late fall comes to the United States we are overwhelmed with images of tables weighed down with golden turkeys and platters overflowing with sumptuous foods. Laughing people, who seem to have their every food desire filled on the Thanksgiving holiday, surround the tables. Yet the reality is that throughout the United States and the world there is a significant scarcity of food.
How do we approach the celebration of the season of “Thanksgiving” in worship? How do we celebrate in worship the abundance of God’s love that is in our lives and the call to our congregations to be in justice ministries with those who physically and spiritually “hunger and thirst”? As worship leaders, how do we help our congregations and perhaps even ourselves in terms of poverty in our community and beyond?
Consider these worship ideas and prayerfully be in conversation with your worship team to create your Thanksgiving season worship services.
First, it is important to learn about food scarcity and poverty in the US, and about The United Methodist Church’s work in hunger in the US and around the world:
Here are several links to websites and articles that will give you biblical reflection on poverty, food scarcity, and global hunger.
Missionaries Dee Ann Heptas and Ash Norton chose to offer responsive litanies based on two of the scriptures of the day for Thanksgiving. The response based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 could follow after reading the scripture. Consider using the litany prior to the prayer for the day. The theme of “God hearing our cries and providing what we need” can be used in the prayer. Dee Ann’s liturgy centers on the theme of gratefulness for what God has supplied for and through us: multiple generations and friends sharing homes, the work of our hands, and the many ways our tables are filled with food. Ash adapted the Philippians scripture to be a call and response reading between a leader and the congregation. Consider using this as one of your scripture readings for the day. If available, a liturgical dance group or drama group could add movement that would interpret the text as the leader is reading his or her part. Churches with projection may want to consider projecting images that interpret the text. This gives you the option to show images from around the world reminding us that we are all a part of God’s mission together.
Thanksgiving Responsive Reading Based on Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
One: We called out for help to you, O Lord, and you heard our cries.
Many: Oh Lord, I am blessed. We are grateful.
One: Our ancestors were once homeless in the wilderness. You give us homes to share with our grandchildren, our elders, our neighbors.
Many: O Lord, I am blessed. We are grateful.
One: The children of Israel were once slaves in Egypt. Our labor can fill trains from our mountains again and again.
Many: O Lord, I am blessed. We are grateful.
One: We gather at tables filled with laughter and food from the kitchen, the food bank, the community garden. In Jesus’ name we say together:
All: O Lord, I am blessed. We are grateful. Amen.
Written by Dee Ann Heptas, serving as a Church and Community Worker with the United Methodist Coalfields Ministry in West Virginia, Advance #3021785. Permission granted for use in worship.
A Call and Response on Philippians 4:4-9
One: Rejoice in God always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Many: The Creator is near.
One: Indeed, our Creator is near. Do not be nervous. The Creator made you from dust and gave you the Breath of Life. Rejoice! Be grateful! You continue to breathe.
Many: For the Lord is near.
One: Yes, our Lord is near. So do not be restless. The Lord decreed to our ancestors the Laws of Life and has always been just. Therefore rejoice, be grateful, you have the justice of the Lord.
Many: For the Master is near.
One: Indeed, our Master is near. Do not be uneasy. It was the Master who saw our iniquities and paid for them with his body and blood. Rejoice, be grateful, your Master loves you so.
Many: Let us rejoice and be thankful.
One: Yes, as I have been saying…so why are you anxious about anything? In every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. Rejoice! Be grateful! It is God who listens. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Many: Thus we will think about whatever is true or noble.
Many: Thus we will think about whatever is right or pure.
Many: Thus we will think about whatever is lovely or admirable.
Many: Thus we will think about whatever is excellent or praiseworthy.
One: Yes indeed! Those things you have learned or received or heard or seen in the Word of God—expressed in Moses and the Prophets, in our Lord Jesus and his disciples—put it into practice.
Many: We will, for the glory of God. We are grateful. We rejoice! Peace be with you.
Written by Ash Norton, Mission Intern, serving as a community organizer and advocate for Open Doors—United Methodists in Mission, a ministry of the Mobile District of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference (Advance #3021340). Permission granted to reproduce for use in worship.
Missionaries Mariellyn Dunlap Grace and Lisa Nichols offer a “Prayer for the Day” and a responsive “Call to Worship” for use in worship. The “Prayer for the Day” brings to our prayers the reality that scarcity comes in many forms: food, shelter, medical care, love, relationships, and hope. You could add the concerns that specifically speak to your faith community to this list. Lisa Nichols interlined the familiar scripture of Matthew between the words of those from all life situations who come to worship and praise God together to create the liturgy for the “Thanksgiving Call to Worship.”
Prayer for the Day
Lord, we come to you this day with hearts burdened for those who live in scarcity; scarcity of food, of shelter, of medical care; scarcity of love, relationships, and hope. Grant them your abundance, God of our ancestors, who brought the Israelites out of slavery and into true freedom. Bring those who live in poverty and despair to a land flowing with justice and compassion, that they may celebrate the goodness of God! Amen and amen!
Written by Mariellyn Dunlap Grace, Church and Community Worker, serving as patient services coordinator of the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio, Advance #3021171. Permission granted to reproduce for use in worship.
Thanksgiving Call to Worship
One: We praise you, O God, who watches over those who will eat in abundance this afternoon, those who will not have enough this day, and those who will die from malnutrition and starvation.
Many: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”
One: We worship you, O God, who watches over those who have flowing water from filtered faucets, those who walk miles for little water, and those who have no access to potable (clean) water.
Many: “For I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
Leader: We praise you, O God, who cares for those who wear only designer brands, those who can afford only secondhand goods, and those who are excited to receive pillowcase dresses and hand-me-downs.
Many: “For I needed clothes and you clothed me.”
One: We worship you, O God, who cares for those who have enough medical insurance, for those who receive care at free clinics, and for those whose only medical care comes from friends and family.
Many: “For I was sick and you looked after me.”
One: We praise you, O God, who cares for those who are imprisoned by their material desires, those confined by their addictions, and those incarcerated by nations, counties, and for-profit prison systems.
Many: “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
One: We worship you, O God, who calls us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Many: During this season of Thanksgiving, may we be bold to follow the example and teaching of Jesus Christ, sharing of our lives so that all may have and have abundantly.
Written by Lisa Nichols, deaconess serving as a Church and Community Worker in the position of executive director of Henry Fork Service Center, Rocky Mount, Virginia (Advance #982953). Permission granted to reproduce for use in worship.
- “Now Thank We All Our God” (UMH, #102): Use this hymn in worship in a slightly different way this season. Invite two members of the congregation to write a short statement of thanksgiving or of concern that relates to the text. Read one each between stanzas one and two. If you have a drama ministry, perhaps they could interpret the text of the hymn and lead a worship drama between those stanzas that relates to your community and the text.
- “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful” (TFWS, #2195): Repeat this beautiful chorus from Taizé several times as a call to prayer. Continue playing it softly under the spoken prayer, perhaps using the prayer for the day written by Mariellyn Dunlap Grace, and then engage the congregation in singing it together several more times at the close of the prayer. Another option is to teach the congregation the sign language for the word “thankful” and lead them in the sign as you sing. You could ask them to share this ASL sign each time they hear the word “thankful” in the service. Children will enjoy listening for the word and counting how many times it is said in worship!
- “Song of Hope / Canto de Esperanza” (TFWS, #2186): Sing this Argentinian song as a congregational response to the benediction. The text is a powerful call to work together for peace, to “work for a world that’s new,” and to be faithful to Christ’s call. The percussion could start softly under the benediction with the keyboard/guitar and other instruments beginning as the benediction ends. Consider asking the congregation to move to create a circle around the worship space as the instrumentalists play. Sing this song of hope holding hands as a commitment to follow through with the call to work together in being faithful. What a difference we could make in ending food scarcity if we worked together!
Many congregations use cornucopias, swaths of wheat, and fall vegetables as the focus on the main table for the service on the theme of Thanksgiving following the food abundance image.
This season, consider reflecting the reality of food scarcity in your community instead:
- Ask the local food bank what they typically give to their participants each week. Use only those supplies in your worship visual.
- Ask the local food bank for the foods they need right now and ask everyone to bring ONLY those foods to worship. Worshipers would come forward and bring their food offering during the opening gathering music. Have one or two “visually artistic” people there to help place the food items on the main worship table and around the space as needed. Make sure to remind your congregation that the expiration of the food item needs to be no less than one year from the date of your service. This is not the time to empty out older items from their own cabinets.
- Why not create a visual using the foods that are typical of those living in poverty in your community? Consider asking some of the members to take the SNAP Food Stamp Challenge to discover what your grocery list really would be if you used food stamps. Talk to those members for whom this is a reality to discover what they have on their shopping list. (See Sermon Starters.)
- Many faith communities are in multicultural or transitioning communities. What are the holiday foods that are traditionally eaten in the homes surrounding your church? Create a display using those items.
Other Worship Ideas
- Be “thankful” in many languages: You may know how to say “thank you” in several languages, but do you know how to say the word “thankful”? Consider inviting persons to discover what the word “thankful” is in the language of their heritage if they do not already know it. A quick internet search on “the word thankful in [language]” will help you. Create a short responsive liturgy with the response of the congregation being simply the word “thankful.” For instance, “For all of the blessings you have given to us, O Lord, We are ___________.” [The congregation says the word “thankful” in the language of their heritage.]
- Create Thankful Streamers / Banners: Look in sale bins for solid color, wide ribbon (approx. 2 inches wide) in a variety of colors. For the streamers, collect several tacks, permanent markers in a wide width (any color), 36-inch long, ½-inch diameter dowels, and a hammer. For a banner you will need a 36-inch long, 1-inch diameter dowel for each banner, plus a banner stand, and an extra length of ribbon to tie on the banner to hang it. Invite persons to write what they are thankful for on a streamer. On a second streamer ask them to write a short sentence prayer for those in your community living with food scarcity and in poverty. An additional streamer could be created with action statements. What will they do to make a difference? Create additional streamers with the word “thankful” written in many languages. For the streamers, hold 8-12 (or more if they fit) streamers by one end. Using a tack and hammer, tack streamers onto one end of the dowel. Do not hammer the tack in all the way. Carefully arrange the streamers so they hang around the dowel. Then hammer the tack in securely. If desired, hold the streamers tight against the dowel and tie an additional piece of ribbon around the dowel approximately ½-inch down from the tack. This will help keep the streamers from falling off if an exuberant child is carrying it into worship. For the banner, simply tie the streamers onto the dowel alternating the word “thankful” with the ribbons the individuals wrote on. In either case, process the streamers/banners down the aisle on the first hymn, waving and jiggling them so they dance as they move through the congregation. This option allows for many streamers to be used creating several banners. You could also tie the streamers onto a strong twine or piece of rope and hang it in the worship space.
- Show the video, “What If No One Ever Went Hungry in America?”: If you have projection capabilities, consider showing this video during worship as a call to action. It could be used prior to an intercessory prayer for families in your community that don’t have enough food every day. Use the prayer sentence, “Lord, we pray that no one goes hungry,” as the response to the prayer. Show the video just prior to asking congregation members to commit to making a difference in the next week in their community. Consider having cards in the pews for them to use to write down specific actions they will take. You could also link the video to your church’s Facebook page or website for your congregation to ponder in the weeks prior to your Thanksgiving worship service. Make it a time of study by linking many of the food scarcity education articles and the biblical reflections in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving Day. Consider adding a new link every few days to encourage your congregation to read, ponder, and pray.
Permission for reproduction of the worship liturgies in this article is granted for use in congregational worship. For any other use, please contact the author of the liturgy through his or her missionary page at www.umcmission.org.
Written/compiled by Rev. Debra Tyree, Global Praise