Thanksgiving Thanks 2020
Oh hey, it's 2020.
The church where I serve as Pastor has a long-standing tradition of doing a special service on Thanksgiving Eve. A few months ago, we were starting to plan for masked, socially distant worship -- complete with sign-ups and organization and bipolar ionization.
Then, a month or so ago, the COVID-19 pandemic came to my church's small town in full force, and several of our members were diagnosed and/or exposed to Covid. We quickly pivoted to online worship, and we've been live-streaming only for quite a few weeks now.
I have to admit I always feel a little stressed this time of year. September and October are busy months: the re-start of school, both of my boys' birthdays, lots of preparation for the church program year. This year is no exception, except it feels like we are planning everything without a manual, and with knowing that whatever we plan is likely to fall apart. I've been worried about the ones I love, and filled with anxiety about the uncertainty of so much.
In the midst of all that noise, Thanksgiving Eve has come again. I've been sitting in an empty church building for a few hours now, but one of our church musicians just arrived, and she's practicing flute far away from my office. We greeted each other in our masks.
As I listen to her warm up, I'm struck by the power of simple, isolated moments of Thanksgiving. I'm struck by the courage of ordinary people to make the necessary changes to keep each other safe this year, and yet at the same time, refuse to give in to despair, hopelessness, anger and hatred.
In year where people everywhere have had much to complain about, my church community is no exception. One of our high school students was voted Homecoming Queen, and she had to celebrate in quarantine, all alone, as the end of her volleyball season was canceled. Another family faced the death of a beloved dad and grandpa last week, and had to resign themselves to wait for a memorial service until spring and a vaccine. We are all making different choices than we ordinarily would.
So I didn't know what to expect when I suggested we put together a video of church members sharing what they're grateful for in this season. I wasn't sure how it would feel to celebrate gratitude in a year of losses and frustration.
Imagine my own joy and gratitude when I received pictures, notes and videos. No one was glossing over the reality of 2020, but they were also saying that misery or anger would not define our year together. Instead, love would.
I said in my portion of the video that I was grateful this year to serve a congregation named Grace, where people treat each other with Grace. Part of that grace is knowing that a huge part of ministry (and life in general) in 2020 is all about trying new things - and being willing to fail. As I made the video, I made a few mistakes. I learned that certain photo formats I received showed up blurry. Some of the images got cut off because of the way the program zoomed. And our recording underneath should have been in audio format to get better sound.
But those imperfections and mistakes wouldn't have the final word, just as COVID and despair wouldn't have the final word, either. Instead, the faces of our church and the love they shared would. Love is not canceled in 2020. Happy Thanksgiving.