At the congregation where I served as associate pastor for seven years, there was an annual tradition of an Agape Meal. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, a group would remain after morning worship to transform the sanctuary from rows of chairs facing forward to chairs around tables, similar to the dining area of a restaurant. That evening, participants would return for a feast with conversation, hymns of Thanksgiving, and stories of gratitude.
The following liturgy adapts that traditions for use in almost any setting (with or without a meal). In place of transforming the sanctuary, another option is to follow this liturgy with a potluck meal.
Each section generally has three parts: (1) an open time of sharing experiences of gratitude from the last year related to a specific theme, (2) a hymn to help recapitulate and extend the spoken words of thanksgiving, and (3) a prayer offered by an individual. To the best of my knowledge this liturgy originated with The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance.
The People of God Gather for Worship
The Gathering Hymn: “Now Thank We All Our God” (New Century Hymnal 419)
The Prayer: (repeat three times slowly)
Breathing in: “I stand in awe…”
Breathing out: “…of all creation.”
[from the Spirituality and Practice website]
The Great Thanksgiving
The Words of Thanksgiving for The Good Earth (food, water, trees, air, beach, meadows, mountains)
The Hymn: “For the Beauty of Meadows”
The Prayer of Thanksgiving (by Walter Rauschenbusch, 1861–1918)
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
The Words of Thanksgiving for Citizenship and Freedom (country, democracy, peace and international neighbors)
The Hymn: “This is My Song” (NCH 291)
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine; this is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine: but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine; but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine: O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.
This is my song, O God of all the nations, a prayer that peace transcends in every place; and yet I pray for my beloved country–the reassurance of continued grace: Lord, help us find our one-ness in the Savior, in spite of differences of age and race.
May truth and freedom come to every nation; may peace abound where strife has raged so long; that each may seek to love and build together, a world united, righting every wrong; a world united in its love for freedom, proclaiming peace together in one song.
The Words of Thanksgiving for Institutional Involvements (work, service organizations, schools)
The Hymn: “For the Fruit of All Creation”
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
Let us join our hands and hearts in gratitude on this wondrous day, where we have the abundance of our lives before us. We remember on this day of bounty all of those who do not have enough, who are afraid, who are lonely, and who suffer. We wish for the abundance of this world to be shared, for fear to become love, for the lonely to feel welcomed, and for the suffering to know rest and joy. For the labors, the love, the care that gave us the delights of this and every day, we say “Thanks!” For the nourishment of our spirit, the challenges that strengthen us, and the friends we have on the journey, we sing “Thanks!” For all that is our lives, for these good gifts, we whisper, “Thanks!” Overflowing with gratitude, let us shout, “Thanks!” Amen.
–Naomi King, “A Thanksgiving Blessing”
The Words of Thanksgiving for Interpersonal Relationships (family, friends, diversity, new acquaintances)
The Hymn: “All Are Welcome”
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
Starter Prayer: “For family who are friends, and friends who are family….”
The Words of Thanksgiving for Spiritual Resources (faith, Broadview Church, scriptures, teachers, music)
The Hymn: “Wisdom’s Feast”
The Prayer of Thanksgiving (Howard Thurman, 1899–1981)
Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:
My mother’s arms,
The strength of my father
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives
Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies
And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the
Eye with its reminder that life is good.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day
I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I
Feared the step before me in darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest
And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open
Page when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:
The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,
Without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp
And whose words would only find fulfillment
In the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,
The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,
Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;
The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream
Could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment
To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,
My desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence
That I have never done my best, I have never dared
To reach for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind
Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the
inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the
children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.
A Potluck Meal of Fellowship and Gratitude
The Blessing over the Meal: The Doxology
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Christ, all creatures here below.
Praise Holy Spirit, Comforter,
One God Triune, whom we adore. Amen.