Observing â€œA Year of Gratitudeâ€
For one United Methodist congregation, thanksgiving happens more than just one Sunday a year. St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City has been practicing a "Year of Gratitude" since last January.
|Worshippers bring forth prayers of gratitude during a May service at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.|
|COURTESY ST. LUKE'S UMC |
After reading John Kralik's book, A Simple Act of Gratitude (Hyperion), the Rev. Robert E. Long, senior pastor, challenged the church staff to help him find ways to help the congregation to be more grateful.
As a result, on the first Sunday in January â€” Jan. 1 in 2012, Long invited every member of the church to write a thank-you note every day this year. The church's website had logged more than 20,700 notes by early October.
"I had no idea how this would change the church," Long said. "I have received hundreds and hundreds of thank-you notes."
When people experience the gift of God's grace, he continued, their automatic response is to be thankful. "And when we're grateful, we grow in faith."
Long, who has served St. Luke's for 21 years, shares in a video that gratitude is the "mother" of all virtues. "It's hard to be a faithful person without gratitude," he said.
"Studies have shown that people who live with a sense of thanksgiving report that they are far happier than those who do not," says an article on the church's website. "As a family of faith, we know that we have been blessed and that it is important to give thanks to God. It is also integral to our well-being to express our gratitude to one another."
Intentionally saying â€˜thanks'
Gratitude, the Web article notes, is more than a warm feeling of thankfulness. It is intentionally expressing thanks to those around us.
Silent gratitude is of no value, Long said. "When we express gratitude to others, we will bless their life and we will be blessed as well. It is a discipline that makes a difference over time."
Those blessed by the "Year of Gratitude" include a member who wrote a thank-you note to his parents. "The man's father died unexpectedly two weeks later. That thank-you note was the last thing this man said to his father," Long reported.
One family, blessed by a successful business venture, decided to express its gratitude by promising $500 college scholarships to high school seniors in St. Luke's. In the end, Long said, 24 seniors received scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000.
"I never would have anticipated all the blessings we've received," Long said. He notes that the church's 2012 budget â€” that had been set at 8 percent above 2011â€” will be fully subscribed, and then some. "We're going to have a 10- to 15-percent surplus," he added. "We're talking about $250,000 more for mission and ministry."
"To help encourage our congregation to write thank-you notes, we started the year out with a sermon series entitled â€˜365 Days of Thank You,'" explained Brent Manning, St. Luke's director of communications.
Talk about gratitude often
The church produced thank-you cards and started giving them away, as well as selling them in its bookstore. "We also made a â€˜cling,'" he said, that people can put on their mirrors at home to remind them, â€˜What are you grateful for today?'"
|The Rev. Robert Long, center, receives written expressions of gratitude as worshippers offer prayers at the Communion rail during worship at St. Lukeâ€™s United Methodist Church.|
|PHOTO COURTESY ST. LUKEâ€™S UMC|
The church has used its website, bookstore, classes and, most importantly, worship services to keep the idea of being grateful in front of people. Pastors have been intentional about weaving thankfulness messages into their sermons to remind people to be grateful for those around them. Periodically, the thank-you cards are distributed during worship.
Manning, like Long, can repeat stories from many people telling how giving a simple "thank- you" card has made a difference in their lives and in the lives of those they know.
"One person gave a â€˜thank-you' card, and that person decided to implement the program in their workplace," Manning said. "Another person sent a â€˜thank-you' card, and, in return, they received a gift, and so the back and forth has developed into a relationship built on mutual gratefulness for the other."
Both Long and Manning encourage other United Methodist churches to consider a 365-day gratitude emphasis.
"Having a spirit of gratitude is a great way to live," said Manning, "and it has been an amazing blessing to our church."
For 2013, Long said the church will emphasize The Golden Rule. "How are we treating each other?" Long said. "We'll be focusing on serving others."