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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

How to Celebrate Advent as a Family

December 02, 2016

advent

ˈadˌvent/

noun
1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
synonyms: arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise

Advent comes upon me suddenly every year, and I feel unprepared to provide a soulful Christmas preparation that is not solely baking and hunting for the best Christmas gifts. We end up doing some meaningful things, but I always feel a little harried.

This year I prepared in advance....maybe because it is the first year in many that I am not pregnant or caring for an infant. I thought I would offer some Advent suggestions for all who may read so that you might be jump started to get ready for this amazing season. Now is the time to make a plan and be ready for that first Sunday of Advent, right after Thanksgiving.

Advent is worth celebrating. Advent is considered the start of the liturgical year, as we prepare our hearts for Christ's coming--both in the end of time and in to our hearts more fully in the same way that he broke into this sinful world. A celebration of Advent saves the season from degenerating into a panicked commercialized circus. It reminds us for four weeks that we are not waiting on Santa, but on Jesus.

First, I would ask the Lord, "What do you want to do in me and in our family this Advent?" Then ask him to lead you to resources that will help make your Advent celebration intentional.

—The Advent wreath is a great tradition, partly because nothing quiets children and adults like darkness and a couple of burning candles. The symbolism of Christ bringing light into the darkness is right there before us. You do not need a specific Advent wreath to do this. I just bought a wreath of greens, wrapped a beautiful purple and gold ribbon around it, put four candle holders in the center of it with three purple candles and one pink one. (The pink one is for Mary, but you don't have to have a pink one). You will need a center candle of white for Christmas Day. We have a special table for the wreath, and on it we put a purple cloth we found at an ethnic resale shop. Along with the wreath, we usually put some nativity scene and an icon of John the Baptist, as the one who called us to prepare the way for Jesus. We let different children light candles, blow out the candles, and lead the prayers.

—This year I am going to use this small booklet you can find on Amazon for $1, O Radiant Dawn. It is a FIVE minute daily guide to lighting the candle, has beautiful selections of individual verses for each day and then asks a discussion question (one for older children or adults, one for younger children). It is good to have a short liturgy to do so that all can enter in. This book recommends learning the hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel by singing a verse everyday. You could choose any hymn. We will plan to do this everyday, and if we get in four days, that will be sixteen times around the wreath as a family. I may choose to do this in the morning starting the day, as it is dark where we live when we get up.

—In the evening, we will read a chapter in the storybook, Bartholomew's Passage: A Family Story for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide. The first one in his series is Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent, which we read for a couple of Advents. I will offer that whoever is reading may have to edit some violent scenes of Essenes defending themselves against marauders and such. This is a fiction series but helps place the nativity story in historical context, and we all learned through the story. Children are usually begging for the next chapter every night.

—Another chapter book that brings me to tears and my father has read to all of his grandchildren, as it is his favorite book, A Tree for Peter, by Kate Seredy. Though it is not directly about the nativity, it is all about opening our hearts to love and transformation, and this is catalyzed in the story by a Christ figure. You could also simply choose a different picture book every night. I will provide a list on another post, if you need suggestions.

—I will also be asking my children to choose one person or family who is in need for them to serve in some way over Advent. This could be making a meal, shoveling snow, free babysitting, writing someone who is lonely. I hope this will help pull them away from a self-focused expectation of Christmas.

—I am still praying about my own personal devotional time during Advent, specifically about what book God would have me read for the deeper stirring in my soul as I wait on him.

—A dear friend of ours brings Advent calendars every year for each child. The anticipation of opening each window is an exciting moment every day. Before we had the generosity of this friend, we all shared one calendar and took turns opening windows. This is a great way to build anticipation.

—Advent will also include beautiful music, and I have to admit that we are not liturgically correct and do listen to Christmas music during Advent. But here is a beautiful Advent collection: Birth of Jesus: A Celebration of Christmas by John Michael Talbot.

—And Advent will include baking, making Welsh Cakes for some friends. This happens throughout Advent with different children helping me on different days as they learn the family recipe and method. Then we all have fun packaging and distributing them.

—Try Joni Eareckson Tada's book of hymns that comes with a C.D. and a story about each hymn: O Come All Ye Faithful: Hymns of Adoration and Joy to Celebrate His Birth. This is a great book to work through over Advent, especially if your family is musical.

Many people use the Jesse Tree figures which you can google and download. These are figures that tell the story of the Scriptures over the whole of Advent and are a great way to review God's work in history leading up to his coming. You can find paper downloads and have children color them. I have a dream of felting these figures someday to hang on a tree, but that would mean getting ready for Advent in January, and I haven't yet gotten that good.

I hope that as you wait on God as to how you should live into Advent you will be able to see it not as a heavy burden, but as a tool through which to open your hearts and your homes to God's light. Remember, do not let perfection rob you of what God could bring. It will rarely be perfect or rarely what you imagined. But it will be full of life and laced with the presence of God himself.