For 22 years, three churches have led the way in hosting an Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service in Rockdale County and this year that special service promises to be the largest one yet as now 13 churches will gather to sing, pray, worship and fellowship together Nov. 22.
The Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service began more than two decades ago when pastors from St. Simon's Episcopal, St. Pius X Catholic and Epiphany Lutheran churches decided to combine their worship services together for a time of praise and thanksgiving.
This year, joining the three founding churches, 10 additional churches representing a range of denominations including Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists and others will celebrate Thanksgiving in a community-wide service the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at 7 p.m. The service will be held at Epiphany Lutheran Church, located at 2375 Ga. Highway 20, in Conyers and will also be a benefit for the Family Promise of NewRock (FPNR), a ministry to help the homeless founded last month by the 13 churches.
"For most pastors, this is one of the high holidays for us because it hasn't been taken over by the culture," Epiphany Lutheran's pastor, the Rev. John W. Beckman said of Thanksgiving. "It's not about selling things. It's about a meal, about a community. It's such a wholesome thing. I've always loved Thanksgiving."
Indeed, Beckman counts as some of his most "precious memories" those from childhood when he and his relatives would gather at his grandmother's house in the Midwest to celebrate Thanksgiving.
"I remember as a child holding hands and singing the hymn 'Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow' as our table grace," he said. "The day was filled with delightful smells and delicious foods, games of football and for some, a wonderful nap on the floor in front of the TV."
The pastor remembers how his mother's family all lived in the same area, so it was easy to get together, but said now so many families are like his and are scattered around the country.
"Our church becomes our extended family," he said, adding that the community is invited to attend the upcoming service to gather as "the body of Christ -- the family of God -- in offering praise and thanksgiving to our God for all the blessings that He so graciously gives."
The pastor said he hopes people will take time to be thankful for what God has given them.
"The problem with Thanksgiving is people are so busy they don't pay attention to it," he said. "But it is important to look at our blessings. It's better to operate off of a better understanding of thankfulness than need. We often concentrate on the bad and negative news and forget to have our eyes open to the good. You put your finger on your pulse and each one of those beats is a gift.
"(This is) truly honoring our faith in God and I believe it pleases Him when we are intentional about saying thanks. Isn't that what we teach our children -- to say 'thank you?'"
The pastor said the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service is a "wonderful" experience and one he has always enjoyed.
"The service is short and the fellowship is a great event," he added. "We just come together on those elements we all agree on."
One thing all 13 churches agree on is support for the local homeless ministry FPNR. An offering will be taken at the Thanksgiving service to benefit the ministry and worshipers are also asked to bring non-perishable foods to be contributed to the local food bank, Rockdale Emergency Relief.
Following the service, there will be a fellowship time and finger foods and desserts will be served.
"This year we have so much to be thankful for as 13 churches in our community have come together in order to establish an important new ministry," Beckman said. "Truly God has blessed us for a reason. We are called to bless others. FPNR is but one of the ways that we together witness to the grace and blessings we have received from God's hand."
The founding churches of FPNR include Epiphany Lutheran, St. Pius X Catholic, Smyrna Presbyterian, Life Church, Conyers First United Methodist, Rockdale Baptist, Rockdale Alliance, Allen Memorial United Methodist, Milstead Baptist, Conyers First Baptist, Trinity Baptist, Conyers Presbyterian and New Life in Christ Baptist.
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, email Karen Rohr, features editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.