Thanksgiving: Sharing our Blessings
--By Jackie Campbell--
Although it’s been a federal holiday in the United States since 1863, Thanksgiving Day is rooted in Christian faith and values. In the early 1600s, Virginia colonists routinely observed a day of thanksgiving to God. An annual celebration was part of the charter for those settling Jamestown.
What is generally recognized as the “first Thanksgiving” was the celebration in which the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for their safe journey and early days in the New World. It brought together the pilgrims and Native Americans for a three-day feast. In this spirit of this joining of cultures, the season offers an excellent opportunity for churches to celebrate different cultures in their congregations and communities.
Most Thanksgiving celebrations center on food. Many churches provide Thanksgiving meals to those in their communities, either inviting people in or providing food so families can host their own celebrations. Ford Memorial UMC in Ford City, for example, hosts its 10th annual community Thanksgiving meal on Nov. 24. Greenstone UMC in Avalon, a Pittsburgh suburb, offers a free meal for the church and community at noon on Thanksgiving, with options for sit-down, take-out or delivery.
Chippewa United Methodist Church in Beaver County chose another way to offer meals. Food bags were distributed to those who are part of the congregation over a two-week period. Families were asked to fill the bags with several types of food and pray over them before bringing them back to CUMC to be sorted and packed into grocery carts along with gift cards to purchase turkeys or ham.
"When 70 families came to receive their food, to their amazement they were given a grocery cart of food as a symbol of God’s love through the Chippewa UMC," said the Rev. Rod Smith, senior pastor. The Thanksgiving Food bag ministry is coordinated by the CUMC Missions Team.
This year, the Men's Group at Christ UMC in Bethel Park is doing something similar -- providing meals for South Hills emergency workers (fire, police and EMS) on Thanksgiving. They solicited food and monetary donations, and volunteers to prepare the meals on Nov. 23 or deliver them on Thanksgiving Day.
Members of the Beulah Park and Christy Park United Methodist churches in McKeesport serve eat-in meals and offer home delivery on Thanksgiving Day from 12-2pm, at Beulah Park UMC, 1615 Grandview Ave. McKeesport, PA 15132. Reservations are requested when possible by calling 412-672-2785, but walk-ins are also welcome.The meals have been offered for at least four years. "Last year, between delivery orders and eat-in, we served almost 350 meals," said the Rev. Cyndi Bloise. "We had at least 30 volunteers, including about 10 from the community.
For the past 10 years, Slippery Rock UMC has hosted free Thanksgiving and Easter dinners for the special needs residents of Allegheny Valley Schools. For Thanksgiving 2016, 125 guests were served turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, and dessert. "It was a great way to serve some very special folks in need and to show the love of Jesus as we prepare to enter the holiday season," said member Paul Mowrey. "It's also a great experience for adults and youth to really embrace what Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about."
At First UM Church in DuBois, where an intergenerational team plated the food, doors were open between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for anyone to come and enjoy a free dinner on Thanksgiving. Between 475 and 500 came.
As the Rev. Lance Tucker put it, "We don't want anyone to be without a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner, so this is our gift of LOVE to all."