Let Us Give Thanks

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to show gratitude for the good things that have happened in the previous year. However, at times the trials and tribulations of the year cause us to search deeply to find the good in our lives. The year 2020 has certainly offered such a challenge.

The first Thanksgiving is traditionally thought to have been offered by the Pilgrims as thanks for a bountiful harvest which would get them through the severe winter to come. After that, there were sporadic celebrations of thanks, especially in New England until the Civil War when Lincoln urged the Union to give thanks to God for the effort being put forth to save the country from permanent division. He actually asked for the celebration of two periods of thanks during the year 1863. The first official holiday was established by Ulysses Grant in 1870. While Thanksgiving is in no way a religious holiday, it is usually celebrated by churches in the United States to thank God for the good of the previous year. As published in the order of service from our church on November 22, 1942, during the darkest days of World War II, this passage was offered from David Grayson.

“No holiday in all our calendar is comparable to Thanksgiving. There is not a holiday like it anywhere in the world. It celebrates no battle, no fall of a Bastille, no bank or business holiday, the birthday of no great man, no political revolution, no church ritual. It is the great holiday of common people who have worked all the year and now thank God humbly for good harvests. We are not celebrating Washington or Columbus, or the Declaration of Independence—but just the true and good things, the simple blessings of the soil and the common life. Most holidays are somehow pagan and, if traced back, are rooted in the dull and bloody stories of some old war; but Thanksgiving is the holiday of peace, the celebration of work and the simple life. You must go back to the old Greeks for anything to compare with it; a true folk festival that speaks the poetry of the turn of the seasons, the beauty of seedtime and harvest, the ripe product of the year and the deep, deep connection of all these things to God.”

In 1909 our own minister, A. B. Beresford, was quoted at length in the Cincinnati Enquirer on his thanks for the upturn in American morality. He stated that “Man is now—having mastered the world—turning to the realization of his moral ideals. There is now going forward a revival of righteousness such as the world has never seen. Even amidst our abundant harvests— and for which we are thankful—we are to be even more thankful for the fuller and grander harvest of moral abundance.” Beresford cited as examples the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust, the cleansing of city governments and the newly enacted national pure food act. Reverend Beresford’s comments were somewhat different in the 1917 Thanksgiving service. America had entered World War I and he gave thanks for “arousing the wrath against injustice.” He had been very vocal for several years in support of America entering the war and was thankful the U.S. had taken that step.

Our church was annually involved in a tradition of participating in a Thanksgiving Day service which hosted the liberal churches of Cincinnati. On Thursday, November 28, 1968, St. John’s Unitarian Church hosted the event, which was proclaimed as the 62nd year that such event was held. While the participating churches varied from year to year, Unitarian, Universalist, Jewish and independent liberal churches typically attended. Our own Sunday service held that year to celebrate Thanksgiving was the first such event at Salem Acres.

In 2002, we had survived Y2K but the rumblings of war in the Middle East were on the horizon. That Thanksgiving, Reverend Bill Gupton offered his first Thanksgiving message which he titled, “An Attitude of Gratitude.” He celebrated Thanksgiving Sunday with a look at the meaning of gratitude and an opportunity to share our abundance with others through the UUA “Guest at Your Table” program. In that month’s Heirloom, thanks was given to Jennifer and Patrick for leaving their familiar surroundings and friends to start a new life with us; to Denise Martinez ,our new office manager, for keeping the office running; to Connie Booth for staying on as Choir Director until a new Music Director could be found; to Bob Rush for taking over the Building Committee; and to Bill Gupton for making the leap of faith to come to Heritage.

As we settle into our homes for this year’s holiday, may we all be able to find the good in our lives to celebrate. The turkey and dressing will still taste great even if it is served during a Zoom family gathering.

Image from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.