“Thanksgiving through the Ages”

November 19, 2017


Nov. 19, 2017
University Congregational Church
Robin McGonigle & Paul Ellis Jackson


Opening Thoughts…. Robin
This morning, Paul and I will be sharing “Thanksgiving Through the Ages” with you! We will include some older documents, including a story of the first Thanksgiving, proclamations from William Bradford and George Washington, ideas for modern thanksgiving, and a story of Thanksgiving at UCC today!

First, a disclaimer! The older readings required your clergy team to do a bit of soul-searching. Do we edit the words, phrases and metaphors used in the original documents to reflect our modern sensibilities and our desire to be inclusive and non-offensive? Or do we present the readings today in their original form, with an eye for understanding that the context in which these words were uttered was indeed patriarchal, racist, and jingoistic and classist. We left them in their original language knowing that you can hear them through a modern lens.

So, with that disclaimer announced to frame our work this morning, please rise and sing our first hymn of thanksgiving, found in your blue Winnetka Hymnal, we will sing only verse one of each hymn:

Hymn #1–#516—Come Ye Thankful People Come.

Reading #1— “The First Thanksgiving” circa 1600 (as told by Melanie Naden)… Robin

In early 1600’s England, partnerships of individual business men called Joint Stock Companies financed ventures, asking the Crown for charters to monopolize world trade in designated areas of the world. Successful companies made owners rich.

A joint stock company called the Virginia Company – named for the virgin Queen Elizabeth 1 – was given charter rights for the New World from sea to sea. The Crown thought the New World was only a strip of land and had no idea that the New World was 3,000 miles wide.

Jamestown, founded in 1607 and named for King James I, was run by the Virginia Company. The economy was bad, starvation rampant. The settlers were weak, lazy, quarreled, and died. They died from starvation, disease, murder, and freezing weather. The Virginia Company investors lost funds. More and more ships of male workers and supplies were sent to Jamestown. Another starvation period came and went. Apparently the settlers preferred to disappear into the western woods and run amok in search of gold rather than toil out an existence from the ground at Jamestown for the good of the Company.

A third attempt by Virginia Company investors paid off. Along with more supplies and settlers, two men went from England to be governors of Jamestown. They enacted more than 100 harsh laws – enforced by capital punishment – to compel the settlers to turn a profit at Jamestown for Virginia Company investors. Even “loafing” was considered a capital offense, punishable b death.

In 1619, Jamestown had its first successful harvest. Settlers didn’t starve, run off, or die in great numbers. So pleased were those in charge, that a great celebration was planned to commemorate the harvest. First, several shiploads of women and party supplies were sent from England. Then the celebration commenced. The First Thanksgiving in the New World could be described as a three-day drunken orgy.

The Pilgrims didn’t arrive in the New World until 1620, after they bought a piece of land from the Virginia Company, long after the revelry of the First Thanksgiving was over.

Hymn #2–#16—Now Thank We All Our God

Reading #2 William Bradford’s proclamation 1623… Paul
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.” William Bradford Ye Governor of Ye Colony

Hymn #3–#521—We Plow the Fields

Reading #3—George Washington’s Proclamation 1789 …. Paul
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Hymn #4–#373—What Gift Can We Bring?

Reading #4 – Thanksgiving at All Times … Robin
We give thanks to God when the sky is blue and the air is warm. What should we do when the sky is cloudy and the air is cold? Can we still give thanks then? The history of Thanksgiving actually shows that people of faith are called to give thanks at all times and in all circumstances.

Have you ever tried to read a book while holding it two inches from your nose? It’s impossible. The same thing can happen with our lives. The ability to read our own lives is one of the first things to disappear in this go-too-fast, demand-too-much world. Particularly during the holiday season, the volume of our lives gets turned up so high we can’t hear ourselves think.

While you’re completing your job list for Thanksgiving dinner and family visiting, what about taking a moment to prepare for the holiday in our hearts? We certainly know how to set the table, baste the turkey, mash the potatoes, make the beds, and throw open the doors. But how do we create a space in our lives for thanksgiving?

One thing I like to do during the two weeks close to Thanksgiving is write thank you letters. It intentionally nurtures a feeling of gratitude. Writing these letters restores the “proper reading distance” for our own lives. Yes, it takes precious time. It also provides an experience of gratitude, silence, and even prayer. But it brings presence to others.

Oprah suggested a gratitude journal – a place to write each day’s list of things for which we are thankful. She suggested 5 gratitude items per day. Our lives become an open proclamation of gratitude in all seasons – when there is good and when there is not-so-good. We get the clear sense of the power we have to write our own lives, with God’s help.

Whether you are alone for Thanksgiving, or in a crowd; whether you have much to give thanks for, or little; take a little time to write down a few sentences of gratitude. Pray it. Offer it as a blessing at your table. It may not change your circumstance, but I believe it will change you.

Hymn #5 — #13—We Gather Together

Final Thoughts—Thanksgiving at University Congregational Church … Robin
There is much for which to be thankful at UCC! Today is the celebration of our commitment campaign, which has been extremely successful! I give thanks for each of you who:
* contribute money,
* share your lives,
* give your time,
* participate in activities,
* offer leadership
* and come to worship.
There is no UCC without each and every one of you. As you know, this year we had to step up our commitment to the church because we have been living off of our savings for several years. I am so proud to say that _____ increased their commitment this year!

We also had _____ new commitments this year!

And now – for the grand total. (Piano music) To date, we have ____________ in commitments!

That is _______ more than last year!

If you haven’t had a chance to make a commitment, we are still receiving them and will be extremely grateful to receive your gifts and commitment card in the near future.

Thank you for your faithfulness and your commitments to our church. It truly makes a difference. I am thankful for you!