celebrating God’s bounty
Throughout the world, faithful communities of Christians gather to give thanks to God and to share with others.
For United Methodists the world over, Psalm 100:4 sets the stage for thanksgiving. The Message says it well, "Enter with the password: ‘Thank you!' Make yourselves at home, talking praise. Thank him. Worship him."
Gathering as Christians, celebrating God's bounty and sharing with God's children are important whether celebrating Thanksgiving in Macedonia during October, the Philippines throughout the year, Liberia in November, Zimbabwe during July or the United States on the fourth Thursday of November.
The difference is that while many festive gatherings in the United States begin with prayers of gratitude or acknowledgment of blessings, thanksgiving celebrations in other parts of the world are more worship- and church-centered – and fasting rather than feasting may be central. In all the settings, giving in gratitude to benefit those facing hardships is part of the practice.
Liberia ... fasting and praying
In Liberia, especially since the end of the civil war in 2003, gathering at local churches for prayer is what matters on Thanksgiving Day. While the country has an official "Fast and Prayer Day" in April, the same disciplines are frequently practiced in November.
On the November Thanksgiving Day, text messages and cellphone calls fill homes across the country. However, attempts to organize programs often face difficulties as the country observes another major holiday in November, the birthday of former Liberia president William V. S. Tubman.
The November date is the official Thanksgiving Day in Liberia. By midyear, planners in the various churches are recruiting members to bring food to the church for the celebration, often called Thanksgiving Harvest.
Gathering at the family table for a Thanksgiving Day meal is rare. For most people, the day is one of gathering at the church for fasting, praying and selling food items.
E. Julu Swen is a United Methodist communicator in Liberia and editor of West African Writers, an online magazine.
Macedonia ... gifts benefit less fortunate
In Macedonia, all United Methodist congregations celebrate Thanksgiving on the same Sunday in October. On this special day, they express gratitude to God for all the fruits and vegetables in the fields, which provide food. Holy Communion follows the sermon, and the pastor invites those present from other churches to participate as well. After the service, everyone gathers for fellowship with coffee, tea and cookies.
In Strumica, the church has a festive worship service. Children participate with songs and a short drama. The choir sings, and instrumental musicians perform. Visitors pack the sanctuary.
Each year, the members of the Anglican church in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, offer collected fruits and vegetables as well as voluntary cash gifts for the needs of the Miss Stone Center in Strumica. Through this diaconal (servant) institution of The United Methodist Church, more than 130 elderly, poor people receive a hot meal of soup, main course and dessert delivered to their homes five times a week. They may also receive practical help with clothes, medicine and firewood. This program meets many needs, improves living circumstances and awakens new hope. In 2010, the center started a ministry for families with children and youth with special needs, and its workers often assist in emergencies.
Urs Schweizer is a United Methodist communicator in the Central and Southern Europe Area.
Philippines ... an attitude of gratitude
Anchored in Psalm 24:1, "The earth is God's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein," people in the Philippines in general and The United Methodist Church in particular give thanks for every harvest.
While no regular day or month is set aside for one thanksgiving celebration, various festivals in January, May, August and September focus on good fishing, coconut harvests and plentiful crops.
During thanksgiving at the United Methodist Church in Nueva Ecija, the congregation gives from its bounty — corn, onions, rice and other vegetables; bananas, calamondin (a citrus fruit) and mangos; and herbs, such as garlic. On a Thanksgiving Sunday, the liturgical worship incorporates creative litanies, music and dance expressing gratitude for the harvest and giving thanks. Worshippers bring harvest symbols to the altar. Families share food during a fellowship lunch. The selling and buying of the gathered harvest items comes next. Sales of crops benefit the church budget.
Filipino United Methodists also celebrate thanksgiving when they feel especially grateful. This is very common in the province of Nueva Ecija, especially for birthdays and anniversaries, job promotions, success in school and business, safe travels, new houses, graduations, passing a board exam, recovery from an illness and triumph from problems.
Instilling an attitude of gratitude is anchored in thanksgiving for God's many blessings.
Gladys Mangiduyos is a deaconess in the Philippines Central Conference
Zimbabwe ... a community event
In Zimbabwe the harvest thanksgiving is a season of the Christian year with much meaning. Churches are decorated with fresh farm produce, such as fruits and vegetables, to mark the harvest day. In rural areas, members take the best produce – the first fruits – from their farms. In urban areas, the best farm produce is bought from the market.
Harvest celebrations are held the last Sunday of July. Posters and banners with poems and thanksgiving verses are displayed around the church for at least two months before the harvest day. The decorations encourage remembering all blessings received from God. People share teachings, sermons and songs as they recall encounters with God and thank God.
During worship, people sit in sections of about 10 households each, based on their geographic area. Each member receives an envelope in which to put a thanksgiving offering. Members of the section combine their harvest thanksgiving collection and present it as one.
During the thanksgiving harvest celebration, one after the other, each section is called to present its harvest. As soon as a section is called, a song of celebration is heard from the back. Members of that section move forward — singing, whistling, ululating, clapping and dancing. The praise stirs up the entire congregation to join in celebration.
A spokesperson from the section highlights the blessings received by section members. The testimonies tell of newborn babies, children who excelled in their studies, prospering businesses, opportunities received, incidents of escape from death and many other blessings. Finally, the spokesperson announces what the section has brought in cash and in-kind offerings. The collection is recorded, and a running total is kept of all collections received to be announced at the end of the service. The congregation applauds. Non-monetary gifts are sold, and the income is credited to the section that brought the goods.
After the service worshippers gather for a large communal lunch. Each member brings a special dish to share.
Priscilla Muzerengwa is a United Methodist communicator in Zimbabwe.