Island pastors reflect on holiday
Thanksgiving Day has a place in the island’s churches, Jamestown’s three pastors say, even though the celebration is an American holiday, and not a religious observance like Christmas or Easter.
“It is certainly a holiday we hold as being very important,” said the Rev. Kevin Lloyd, rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
Lloyd said the holiday not only provides an opportunity for families to reconnect and be together, but for people of faith, the day has added purpose as a time to recall the “need to develop hearts full of gratitude for the ways God blesses us.”
The pastors said they use the occasion to remind people about all the blessings they receive but sometimes take for granted. The churches, through different channels, also reach out on the holidays to remember the less fortunate.
The Rev. William O’Neill, pas- tor of St. Mark Catholic Church, pointed out that religion is at the heart of the American Thanksgiving celebration.
The Pilgrims, he said, started the special day of thanks to show gratitude to God for helping them survive the journey to the New World. O’Neill said parents teach their children to say “thank you,” and yet some adults don’t remember to thank God for all the blessings and guidance they have received.
“We’ve got many blessings we take for granted,” said O’Neill. “It’s good to take time out and say, ‘Thank you.’”
The Rev. Kathryn Palen, pastor of Central Baptist Church, said her sermon on the Sunday before Thanksgiving focused on the Biblical figure Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Hannah had not been able to conceive a child until she promised that she would give her offspring to God’s service. Her prayer was answered and she gave birth to a son.
“We’ve been doing a series of what we can learn from the voices of people who live on the margin,” Palen said. Hannah had sorrow because she did not have children, but like other marginalized people, she also had the ability to see where her life was blessed. “The only response is one of great thanksgiving,” Palen said.
According to Palen, the Biblical story teaches people to be aware of things that are often taken for granted and seem ordinary, but are worthy of thanks.
Palen also asked the children to thank three people whom they don’t typically thank, either because they’re people close to them like relatives, or people they have overlooked. The adults are doing the same, she said, by saying thanks to the grocery clerk or postal carrier to let them know their work is appreciated.
The church does not prepare Thanksgiving baskets, she said, but the members try to match people who may be alone at the holidays with families who will share the dinner. The people may be members of the church or not, she said. Also, Central Baptist Church is holding a special collection to help the food banks. On Sunday, Dec. 2, the congregation will collect nonperishable food items for the food banks in Newport. These organizations have been hit hard in the economy. “They’re running low on supplies,” Palen said.
St. Mark teams up with the Rotary Club to distribute food baskets to the needy. The Rotary procures the turkeys and stuffing, and the church provides the canned goods and other nonperishable items from the food pantry. He estimated more than 30 food baskets will go out for Thanksgiving to help elderly shut-ins and needy families.
The food pantry is located at St. Mark, and volunteers add items to the baskets to help stretch the supplies for a few days beyond the holiday. One group on the island knits scarves, hats and mittens to include in the baskets.
“We have a very active outreach program that helps the whole island,” O’Neill said. One of the food pantry organizers finds families in need. “She works at the schools and knows the kids who need help.”
O’Neill said he tries to visit people who are alone at the holidays to bring communion, and many of those residents are also on the list for a Thanksgiving basket.
Lloyd said St. Matthew’s parishioners donate through the year to the Jonnycake Center in Peace Dale, and the money goes to help with those Thanksgiving baskets.
As for sermons on Thanksgiving, St. Mark is the only church on the island that holds a service. O’Neill said he couldn’t give too many details about his upcoming sermon and quipped, “I’m still working on it.” He did say that the basis of his message will be that God “guides us and blesses us” in ways we overlook and we should be thankful.
O’Neill said that there shouldn’t have to be a day set aside for thanks, but it’s nice to have a “special reminder.” He hopes people will make the holiday more than just a dinner, and said he wishes everyone a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.