From Hal’s Desk, where Ron has been sitting until today……
As you know, I am literally on my way out the door. We are in town through Thanksgiving to be with the family, but the next few days will involve several things.
I have resolved to finish our Christmas letter. It is crazy and perhaps we will fail, but we decided to do it anyway because we know that our Advent season will be very short when we return home. It seems daunting, but I intend to make the time. It is so important to let loved ones and friends know that you are thinking of them and to share a memory and express a hope that there are things worth living for and dreams worth having. It is a sort of benediction (good words) on the past year and a blessing on the year to come, that we are planning to send out into the world by snail mail. I know it’s only a letter, but I believe that any chance to make the Word flesh is worth taking!
I also plan to complete one last weaving project. It has been a great Ft. Collins visit on that score—I have managed to weave 25 yards of fabric which includes 14 place mats, six table runners, and 7 hand towels. These were completed with the support of the staff at Lambspun, my favorite yarn store in Fort Collins, aided by the fact that I have only worked with this amazing congregation and its staff part-time. One real plus of my weaving time was the presence of a few Plymouth folk, who knit and weave there too.
Next Sunday, I will be sharing in the Baptism of my two Fort Collins grandchildren during the second service. Let’s be clear, I will be doing the traditional motions and asking the questions, but you, dear congregation, will be doing the Baptism. In our tradition, the Sacrament of Baptism belongs to the gathered congregation representing the Spirit of the Loving God. As I explained to the grandchildren, there is nothing magical about Baptism or their "Opa,” other than a biological family and a church family agreeing that they need one another and that they affirm one another as care givers for children in the presence of a loving God. The tradition can wax all theological about it, but Baptism is the church welcoming God’s children in a visible way!
Then the following week, just before we leave, we will share Thanksgiving with our family here. This is a holiday with more than a little freight. We could discuss that at another time, but it does have potential. It might raise a justice question or two in our minds concerning food, or the genocide of indigenous people, or the American fixation on the violent sport of football and the sacrifice of young lives destined to suffer the consequences of traumatic brain injury. Thanksgiving can be much more than well-stuffed relatives sharing a meal. I do love that part of it, of course!
Once again, thank you for the joy of sitting at Hal’s desk!
So I had to look it up. What is the difference between being thankful and being grateful? My quick google research says being grateful is appreciating what you have. This is a most excellent pandemic practice in a society that continues to stress the need for bigger, better and of course newer...and did I mention you can have it all with a few keystrokes?
Thankful acknowledges what you have been given. Thankful encourages thinking of others. Google writers say it improves mental health and boosts self-esteem. Thankfulness involves empathy, an emotion that seems to be sorely lacking in 21st century America.
Theologians say we mortals are ultimately thankful to God, who provides it all, well all we need. One of our jobs as the recipient, is to give thanks. Thanks, with words and deeds. Church of course offers an opportunity to do both, to sing hymns of praise and thanks and, to walk the walk as we pledge our sponsorship of church and support of so many people we will never meet with the Alternative Gift Fair, or the youth sleep out.
Long, long ago at a church not that far away, a pastor I followed said Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday because it was everything Christmas was not. Not commercialized, not promoted months is advance, not about costly gifts purchased after a frenzy of shopping. And recently, a holiday hardly even mentioned at the grocery store.
Thanksgiving is about family. Family traditions, be it food, activities or stories. Too much to eat and too much to clean up in the kitchen, but a time of togetherness. A day to remember blessings and give thanks.
But then there is this year, COVID- tide as Hal says. A year of, well maybe not so much. Who will be at your table this year? Who is missing because of travel restrictions, hospitalization or death? Will you create multiple dishes and pies for one or two at the table? Will you haul the Christmas tree out if the family isn’t home to decorate it?
This year will be different.
But we still have reasons to be thankful. I’ll ask you to list a couple right now. I can list the election being over. A vaccine does seem to be on the way. Now, perhaps a thankfulness walk is in order. Can you remember something from each month for which you are thankful? What prompts do you see on your walk? Be thankful to have a safe place to walk, to be able to walk.
Are you Zooming with family? Maybe you-or the kids-want to dress up. Can you dress like a Pilgrim, or a turkey? Will your family dance like no one is watching?
Who will share memories of a first Thanksgiving? First with the new house, spouse, or the new baby? Share your family stories. Get out the photos. I’m happy to share a picture from a Plymouth member who sadly remain nameless so my missive can go out on Facebook. Let the little children lead us!
Perhaps you’ll share the blessing below from Rowsofsharon.com:
“Lord, some people have food and no friends.
Some people have friends and no food.
We thank you that today we have both. Amen.”
Look for the things you are thankful for this year, and do keep the faith.
Tricia is returning to the interim position she held between Plymouth directors Sarah Wernsing and Mandy Hall. After leaving the Plymouth staff, she served as director of Children’s Ministries at St. Luke’s Episcopal for four years. Read more.
Happy Thanksgiving from the clergy & staff of Plymouth!
Gratitude is foundational to our faith, and more than a single-day event. Yet taking one day to focus completely on being grateful allows us to Go Deeper in our thankfulness. (Note: the church office will be closed Thursday, November 28 and Friday, November 29.)
Then we transition to Advent, our preparation for the Nativity of Christ.
We encourage you to do what your life permits to set aside Advent from the lure of holiday madness. Consider doing the bulk of your shopping this weekend (including not only Black Friday/Cyber Monday but Small Business Saturday), so that you can look forward to the arrival of "Love, the Guest."
Here are some Advent resources you may choose to explore:
Advent Calendars to Color (from Praying in Color) - Meditative, individual/family (time commitment variable by day)
#AdventWord - Worldwide, participatory/social media (small time commitment): a global, online Advent calendar. Each day from the first Sunday of Advent through Christmas Day, #AdventWord offers meditations and images to inspire and connect individuals and a worldwide community of believers to the themes of Advent. At the link you can sign up for daily email or follow them on Facebook or Instagram. You may choose to participate by posting of photo that captures that word for you (please tag our Plymouth Facebook or Instagram pages so we can share them with others in the church), or just let the images inspire you. A ministry of Virginia Theological Seminary.
Advent Conspiracy - Worldwide, social justice + worship focused (time commitment your choice): "Over a decade ago, a few pastors were lamenting how they’d come to the end of an Advent season exhausted and sensing they’d missed it – the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation... drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy.... An overwhelming stress had overtaken worship and celebration.The time of year when focusing on Christ should be the easiest was often the hardest.... So, in 2006, three pastors, Chris Seay, Greg Holder, and Rick McKinley, decided to try something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy movement, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through the Christmas season."
May a blessed Advent be yours.
Plymouth Clergy & Staff
Growing up, my extended family alternated who hosted Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a dance between mom’s side and dad’s side, grandparents hosting and aunts and uncles hosting. The years my parents hosted were a mixed bag. The best part was getting all the leftovers filling our fridge, the worst being all the prep work that went into the meal. My mom is an amazing woman, but you don’t mess with her when company is coming over. My brother and I would take turns hiding from mom as she tried to get us to help out. He was better at hiding than me so I got a lot of extra chores. Not that I’m still bitter about that...
After all the hours of cleaning, baking, cooking and setting the table we would sit down to eat together. My mom would always marvel and bemoan how much work went into the meal and how quickly we all gobbled it up. All that prep and we’re ready for our post-dinner naps in 20 minutes.
This hectic pace is how the holiday season seems to go. It is lots of work, planning, traveling, stress etc. -- and it's over in the blink of an eye. The radio is already playing the songs reminding us "it’s the most wonderful time of the year" yet sometimes it is hard to enjoy the season. Between the to-do lists, decorating, shopping, holiday parties, travel, end of semester exams, short days and long nights the time between now and New Years can feel rather overwhelming. In all the hustle and bustle it is the slow moments that we tend to find the most meaning.
Holiday comes from an old English word meaning Holy Day. In the midst of the busyness it’s really hard for me to remember that. These are holy days, holy moments of love, gratitude, and community. Too often the Holy Spirit is crowded out of these days by the busyness of the season.
I wonder what it would look like if we gave ourselves permission to slow down this holy-day season. What would it look like if we gave ourselves permission to let go of some of the to-do-list? What would happen if we didn’t worry about the food or the decorations being as perfect as Grandma would have done them? (My Grandma Joyce could beat Martha Stewart in a decorating or baking competition any day; I did not inherit that skill). What if we spent less energy on presents and more energy being present?
This holiday season, starting with dinner on Thursday, I’m going to intentionally slow down and be more mindful. I am going to give myself permission to enjoy the season and not spend all my energy preparing for it. I will spend more time connecting with friends and family and less time chasing the latest sale or instagram decorating trend.
How will you spend your holiday season? How will you put the holy back in your holidays?
Grace and Peace,
Director of Christian Formation for Children & Youth, Mandy Hall began her ministry at Plymouth in August of 2014. She is originally from Michigan where she followed her call to ministry to become a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. Her passion is helping young people grow in faith in creative and meaningful ways. Read more.