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How to Pray Together on Thanksgiving

November 21, 2017

Growing up in my family, we would spend each Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve at my Grammy's house with all of my uncles, aunts, and cousins on my mom's side. On Christmas Eve, we all crammed in 3 or 4 pews at the local Baptist church for the candlelight service, but on Thanksgiving, we struggled to develop any sort of spiritual traditions. There was the traditional watching of the Lions football game (which we watched on mute during the meal), and then taking a break until the start of the Cowboys game (I didn't even really know there was a big parade until much later) to dig into all the pies.

A couple of times my older cousins wrote out verses about being thankful on cards at each place and we read them before eating, but for whatever reason that never caught on.

So, a few years ago when my Mom was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, Bonnie and I began to put together the liturgy below as a way to pray together as a family and give thanks on Thanksgiving. Here are a few things we learned:

1. Don't let the food get cold

The first year we waited until the food was all ready and on the table to pray and it was a disaster. The kids got antsy and kept grabbing food. The adults kept grabbing the food. Then the food we'd been preparing all day got cold. We couldn't really enter into the prayer because we just wanted to get to the feast.

The next year we took a break about an hour before we ate in a different room where the kids could hang out on the floor and we could pray without feeling rushed. The 10-15 minute service we developed (based on the Book of Common Prayer's noonday service with the additional of a few other prayers specifically for Thanksgiving) can be shortened or lengthened to fit the number of kids and level of chaos of any given year.

2. Involve everyone

Praying through a liturgy like the one below let's everyone participate in a way that doesn't put anyone on the spot. Everyone can read things in unison. Different people can take turns reading prayers or Scriptures. If your family is comfortable praying spontaneously, you can do that. But if you're not, or if you need help getting started, the liturgy can help lead you into it.

3. Give thanks for specific provisions from the past year

For a few years, there was a new baby at each Thanksgiving somewhere in our family. So we added a collect giving thanks for this new life that came to us that year. We've celebrated graduations and new jobs. We've celebrated new in-laws as siblings have gotten married. We've celebrated health situations where there's been healing.

This year we'll celebrate Thanksgiving in a new house that the Lord provided for us. Sometimes we remember those who have passed away, or who are not with us for others reasons. Or we remember real challenges and griefs that we are going through. In the midst of these, we can still believe in God's faithfulness, pray for one another, and wait on the Lord to provide.

Giving thanks for these specific provisions of the Lord and asking for his provision in areas of need helps us remember his goodness year after year. It reminds us to tell the stories of God's activity in our lives. "Wasn't it last year that God..." "Remember last year when we needed...and now look what God has done!"

4. Remember those who don't have, and do something to serve them

As we give thanks for what God has done in our lives, we remember God's love for all people—especially the poor and lonely. Pray for them, and then do something to serve them. A lot of families do something to serve during the holidays, but what would it look like to live a year around lifestyle of generosity for others because of God's generosity toward us?

Yes, we celebrate from a heart thanksgiving through abundance and enjoying good things. But we also sacrifice from a heart of thanksgiving—knowing that when we give ourselves, our money, and our things to others, that it is the Lord that provides what we need.

Looking for a new Thanksgiving tradition? Join us for our Thanksgiving Eucharist Service at 10am in the All Saints Prayer Chapel!

Download the liturgy for Thanksgiving Noonday Prayer