It’s every year. Every year. Every year the big family get togethers. Every year the kids come home from university or community college, and banks and stores and businesses for the most part take the day off. Every year there are favourite foods and second helpings and third helpings that you have to loosen your belt and lay down and take a nap. Every year. Except this year.
We celebrate Thanksgiving every year and in Canada we have been celebrating since 1921by an Act of Parliament. If you have a perpetual calendar and enough patience you could figure out the exact date when Thanksgiving would be celebrated for the next hundred years.
So here we are,celebrating a national holiday,a day of overeating and television watching and hikes and drives to take in the fall colours and catching up with the relatives. Here we are celebrating a national holiday, despite Covid-19, even in church. You have to wonder why.
It’s not in the Bible. Jesus and his disciples didn’t sit around a long table and eat turkey and cranberry sauce every fall. It’s not part of the ancient tradition of the church, either.
Thanksgiving is not a religious celebration. It’s a national holiday. You don’t see people going to church on July 1or Remembrance Day unless it falls on a Sunday. So why do we celebrate Thanksgiving in church?
We are in church on Thanksgiving, in person or online, because a day set aside for giving thanks raises an inescapable question. To who, exactly, are we giving thanks? You give thanks to someone. We teach our children to be polite and respectful. We teach them to say “Please”, when they ask for something, and to say “Thank you” when they get it. Yet you can get a gift and use that gift and love that gift without ever saying, “Thank you.” Giving thanks isn’t about the gift. Giving thanks is about the giver. You say “Thank you” to someone. Saying “Thank you” acknowledges that there is another person involved. Giving thanks establishes a relationship. If we as a nation are giving thanks over this weekend, Covid or not, then somewhere wrapped up in all of it is the question of whom we are thanking.
Now we Canadians don’t always acknowledge this but the first well known Thanksgiving celebration took place in Massachusetts among the Pilgrims in 1621,and there was no question whatsoever as to whom they were thanking. They were thanking God. It was a day and a feast set aside for the express purpose of thanking God. The colony was new and survival was anything but certain. Colonial settlements had collapsed or given up or just plain vanished. The colonists had learned to adapt to the climate of their new home. They were in good shape, with enough shelter and enough food to survive the harsh New England winter. The colonists were Puritans, a conservative group of Christian believers. God had clearly blessed them and they knew it. They had been taken care of and given gifts, so they gave thanks.
But that was 1621. What about 1622? What is somewhat less well known is that there was no Thanksgiving celebration in 1622. The harvest was not so good the next year and so the colonists were going into the winter with more fear and much less security. The Puritans had concluded that God had not chosen to bless them that year and so a feast of Thanksgiving would not have been in order. To the Puritans, Thanksgiving was not an automatic celebration that happened every year in and year out no matter what. They gave thanks in times of plenty. They repented in times of want.
But we are not the Puritans! Unlike the Puritans, we celebrate Thanksgiving annually. That in itself, raises another question. If we are thankful every year, right on schedule, then what is it we are giving thanks for? Not every year is a good year. Given Covid how would you rate 2020? Sometimes things are going great for ourselves, our loved ones, our country. Sometimes there is health and happiness everywhere you look. Sometimes there is peace and plenty. Sometimes, but not always.
There are other times when serious matters like climate change, and racial injustice, and political strife, and most especially a pandemic called Covid-19 dominates our thoughts and our days and our headlines. These days are filled with worry and sickness for some, dysfunction and anxiety for others. Yet here we are in October and Thanksgiving still comes.
So what is it that we are giving thanks for this year? Do we give thanks for our material blessings? Absolutely we should and absolutely we do, although good fortune comes and goes. Do we give thanks for the people that we love and that love us? Of course, we do, knowing well that families and friendships have good times and bad, that people come into our lives and people move out of our lives. Tragedy and heartache can come upon us at any time. We don’t know what will happen. Whoever foresaw this pandemic last October?
And what makes us so certain that there will be something to give thanks for next October? Why do calendars come already printed in the confidence that there will be reason for gratitude next year? There is, in fact, a rather simple answer to that question. We schedule Thanksgiving every year because there is no doubt that there will be something to be thankful for every year.
Dear friends in Christ, even in the midst of catastrophe, even in the midst of a pandemic, there are blessings. Is this just optimism? Is this nothing more than a perky, Pollyanna attitude? A happy can-do attitude? No! We can say with certainty that we will always have blessings to count because we know what those blessings are. God loves us no matter what and God loves us most perfectly in Jesus Christ and that God cares for each of us to the core of our being. That was true last year and it’ll be true next year. All of us are God’s children. All of us. Always there is mercy. Always there is life. God gives us purpose. God gives us a future. We are never alone. God gives us each other. God opens our eyes and opens our hearts and gives us the strength and the will to care for each other.
Whether we have much or whether we have little these things don’t change. When our hearts are joyful and when our hearts are breaking, God always loves us. God never forsakes or forgets us. We are never abandoned. We are never alone.
So, my friends, let us give thanks. Let us give thanks with our words or in the silence of our hearts. Let us give thanks with our time. Let us give thanks with our thoughts and our emotions and our love for our neighbour. Always,every year and every day and every minute,we have reason to give thanks.
In the name of the God who loves us all. Amen.
Rev. Douglas Reble
Assistant to the Bishop
This past summer the Congregational Council of St. John’s, Petawawa applied for, and received, a grant from Renfrew County to construct a Community Garden at St. John’s. The application was for 12 raised planter boxes, fence enclosed, located behind our church building. Our Property Committee has done a wonderful job this summer of constructing these gardens and the fencing – not a small task. Because of the lateness of the grant application, we planted 4 of the 12 boxes this summer.
It is our intention to grow vegetables in these gardens in the coming years, and to donate them to our local food banks and others who may appreciate receiving fresh vegetables during growing season. We would also like to integrate the gardens into our Youth and Sunday School programs. At least a few of these planter boxes will be planted and cared for by our youth and Sunday School participants.
On Sunday, September 6, we held our first service since March, an outdoor service. Here we blessed our Friendship Gardens and presented the first fruits of our gardens to a representative from the Petawawa Pantry Food Bank.
Peace Christian Church: A Lutheran Fellowship, of Chatham, Ontario, one of the newest congregations of the Eastern Synod, celebrated “Membership Sunday” on August 23. The outdoor Service at the home of Daniel Whittal and Rachel Schwarz allowed family groups to keep physical distance. Interim pastor Paul Sodtke presided over the celebration which received one youth and two adults by Affirmation of Baptism, and then invited the entire assembly to renew their commitment.
The Service was the culmination of a series of steps, in which the congregation became incorporated as a not-for-profit, applied for charitable status, adopted a constitution that was later approved by Synod Council, and was formally accepted as a congregation of the Eastern Synod. Confirmation instruction plus a series of online studies about the basics of Lutheranism were also part of the preparation.
Following the Service and lunch, the first official congregational meeting as an ELCIC congregation was convened. People who wished signed on as charter members, and a Church Council was elected. We are a small but enthusiastic group, and grateful for the support of the bishop and the Eastern Synod Council.
Emergency Community Support Fund grant provides fresh food to 75 families in need
St. Philip’s Lutheran Church is thrilled to receive a grant of $37,500 through United Way of Greater Toronto. This funding means St. Philip’s can provide fresh food to 75 families once a week for two months through its Neighbourhood Table @ Home program.
“We are blessed and overjoyed to be amongst the recipients of this generous grant,” says Pastor Tuula Van Gaasbeek. “Timing is everything, and now we can keep supporting our neighbours through the fall. With more money, we’re adding 10 families to our roster of participants for a total of 75.”
Securing this funding will allow St. Philip’s to help families in central Etobicoke—serving vulnerable Canadians amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—by delivering produce boxes and fresh bread.
“We are also grateful to our volunteer drivers, who are playing an integral role in the program’s success,” says Van Gaasbeek.
Fall programming is aimed at parents and developing their food skills.
“We will have weekly themes supported by Zoom sessions on food preparation and loot bags with tools or products related to the theme,” says project coordinator Eunice Hogeveen.
The grant is funded by the Government of Canada; the $350 million Emergency Community Support Fund aims to help community-based organizations that serve a pressing social inclusion or well-being need caused by COVID-19.
The demand for fresh, nutritious food remains high in central Etobicoke as the pandemic drags on.
“The Neighbourhood Table @ Home was our way of pivoting during the coronavirus lockdown—normally, we’d host families at our church through a summer program called The Neighbourhood Table,” says Hogeveen. “Our congregation put our heads together and quickly found a way to continue nurturing relationships in the community. We’re feeding families and planting seeds of love and hope right at their doorstep.”
Dear People of God,
We are all created in the image of God.
When we can recognize our equal humanity and worth our attitudes and behaviours are motivated by compassion and the common good. The disheartening aspect of recent reports of police violence against Indigenous Peoples is that it is neither unusual nor uncommon. We are quick to respond with disgust and anger when we see instances of racial violence and injustices, and yet as the Toronto Star’s editorial board writes, “Let’s save some outrage for treatment of Indigenous people.”¹
In response to the racial violence in Minneapolis, Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald writes,
“Indigenous Elders have said, this coronavirus has come for a reason, it has come to teach us something. One thing is obvious; this pandemic has reminded us of our shared humanity. As the world experienced lockdowns, the majority of us stayed home and expressed a collective concern for our fellow humans’ health and well-being. Perhaps for the first time in our modern human experience, we understood we are truly in this together. As such, it was especially shattering to watch a fellow human killed when we were all working toward preserving health and saving lives. George Floyd became ‘everyman,’ who was experiencing real anguish, and when he cried out for his mother, we all understood.”²Read more →