The federal Thanksgiving holiday began with President Lincoln’s wartime proclamations to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Rooted in earlier observances, especially in the Northeast, American Thanksgiving has clear Christian roots and many churches held worship services to mark the day.
In Pierre, SD, the local Capital Journal newspaper looked at the decline of religious services being offered on Thanksgiving.
“In the past 50 years, traveling to be with family members, watching NFL football games and the Macy’s Parade in New York and the chores of preparing the big meals all compete with attending church for people’s time. Of course, church attendance and membership has gone down in the past 30 years.”
In an admittedly incomplete survey by the paper, they found only two churches holding services on Thanksgiving Day itself in Pierre, and another in a nearby community, while another had a Wednesday night service.
“In Pierre, the Catholic church and the Episcopal church have services on Thanksgiving Day; in Fort Pierre, the Catholic church has a service on Thursday.
Trinity Episcopal Church in Pierre has a Thanksgiving Day Eucharist service at 10 a.m., on Thursday, Nov. 23, in the church at 408 N. Jefferson.
Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church held a Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday night.
They did find at least one congregation that hosted was hosting a public Thanksgiving meal. Like many other church and civic benefit efforts, they found that hosting meals was becoming increasingly difficult due to a lack of volunteers.
Southeast Pierre Mission United Methodist Church holds a community meal each Thursday evening. But not on Thanksgiving Day, when the people who volunteer to put on the meal want to be with their families, said Laurie Bonhorst, banquet coordinator and community outreach staff person for the congregation at 2315 Park.
“Normally we have 300 meals a week, on average,” she said of the Thursday meals. “At least 200 of the meals are in-house. The others are carry-outs.”
But more and more on Thanksgiving Day, “It’s hard to get people to come and put it on,” Bonhorst said.
Has Thanksgiving wholly transcended its Christian origins and become a thoroughly secular holiday; an inclusive day to celebrate family, fellowship and American liberty?
The Episcopal Church lists Thanksgiving Day as a Major Feast among the Holy Days akin to Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. But perhaps like St Stephen’s Day (also a major Feast) it gets recognized in other ways than a worship service?
What is the practice in your congregation? Did you attend a worship service on Thanksgiving Day? What changes have you seen in how Thanksgiving is marked by your community of faith?