Thanksgiving - A Celebration of Collaboration
We think of Thanksgiving, first and foremost, as a time for giving thanks to God - and as Christians that indeed should be our first impulse. But historically, Thanksgiving had a secondary significance that often is overlooked, and that is the need for community that it exemplified.
Oh, sure, we recognize that Thanksgiving (more than any other holiday, perhaps) is a time for reunion and celebration together as family and friends. But what we think of as the first Thanksgiving, in 1621, was more than that: It was a celebration of collaboration, the coming together of disparate peoples and cultures to achieve a common end.
In the case of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag natives, peace and security was the desired end. The Pilgrims sought protection for their struggling colony, while the Wampanoag sought a balance of power with the Narragansett, who dominated the region. They may even have exchanged recipes at that memorable Harvest Feast - who knows! (We do know that the Wampanoag contributed five deer to the meal of waterfowl and wild turkeys provided by the Pilgrims.)
Today, nearly 400 years later, we have cause to give thanks in a similar way, for other partnerships. On November 15 we celebrated the collaboration of two denominations in an inspired service at Sacramento's First United Methodist Church. Bishop Mark W. Holmerud of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America joined me in leading a service of Thanksgiving and Communion that marked each denomination's official recognition of each other's baptism and other sacraments. Appropriately titled "Together We Serve," the service featured the combined gifts and graces of people from the UMC and ELCA - and it was mentioned that really, the two have been working alongside each other for a very long time. Hallelujah!
In the same way, while the UMC has entered into an "Interim Shared Communion" agreement with the Episcopal Church, the people of our two denominations are already working together for the Kingdom, in advance of our reaching Full Communion status. This partnership, too, is to be celebrated and encouraged.
We also have partnered very successfully with a number of secular organizations, including the United Nations Foundation and, perhaps unexpectedly, the NBA - to combat malaria through the Nothing But Nets campaign. Numerous individuals of many faiths (and some who claim no religious affiliation) have joined in this effort.
And now we have an opportunity to engage in "concerted, international and ecumenical/interreligious action" to bring about the healing of the planet. Earlier this month, the Council of Bishops announced a significant call to all United Methodists, ecumenical and inter-religious partners, and people of good will around the world, to "work in hopeful and robust ways for transforming change as God's stewards of creation," as Bishop Gregory Palmer put it. I was honored to serve on the writing team for these documents.
As a first step, the 69 active bishops are asking that the pastoral letter, "God's Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action," be read aloud in worship during the season of Advent in each of the 42,600 United Methodist congregations worldwide (preferably on the first Sunday of Advent, November 29). A liturgical setting for the letter offers responsive elements for congregational participation.
The Pastoral Letter, Pastoral Letter in liturgy form, and the Foundation Document all are available to download from www.HopeandAction.org, along with a variety of other helpful materials to be added on an ongoing basis, including key Resolutions, a timeline for studies, action plans, and ways to stay connected.
I encourage you to visit www.HopeandAction.org and take advantage of those resources - and to join me, in this season of Thanksgiving in particular, in celebrating and encouraging the many ways in which we reach out to each other, lift each other up, and share each other's journey.