A pandemic. Social unrest. Economic turmoil. Raging wildfires stoking a fear of climate change.
The issues of a turbulent 2020 go on, and it’s safe to say this landmark year has left many struggling to remain hopeful and – notable this time of year – thankful.
To help ease those doubts, the Triboro Clergy Association wants to remind the community there is still reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving Day.
On Tuesday, Nov. 24, members of the association – from houses of worship in Palmyra, Cinnaminson and Riverton – will share a pre-recorded Thanksgiving service on websites and social media platforms. Typically held in person, this year’s service will be online to help keep parishioners and congregants safe.
In past years, the in-person service has rotated through different houses of worship and serves as a break to the busy holiday, an interfaith opportunity of hymns, prayers, scriptures and messages focused on gratitude and appreciation.
“We always looked at it as a timeout. Let’s focus – at least for this hour – on the real meaning of Thanksgiving,” Epworth United Methodist Church Pastor Charlie Soper said. “Let’s stop and give thanks.”
When the association members realized an in-person service would not be a safe choice this year amidst COVID-19, there was a brief time when they thought they would need to skip the tradition.
Then a lightbulb went off.
“We said, wait. We’ve all done this. Why don’t we create a video service that we can upload and make available to people? Pre-record a lot of things we’re doing, put it together and get it out there,” Soper said. “The more we talked about it, that seemed the way to go.”
A Thanksgiving service seems especially important in 2020.
“Our scripture tells us to be thankful in all circumstances. We have blessings. Sometimes we just need to step back and see them and be able to give thanks for the good things that are happening around us,” Soper explained.
This will be the first Thanksgiving service for Rabbi Michael Perice, who joined Temple Sinai in July. He said his intent will be to get below the surface – why is it important to be thankful in moments of uncertainty?
“It gives people a sense of this idea of radical hope. Of the fact that, no matter what we face in our lives, there are more bad days than good days, right? But when the good days come, you have to appreciate them. You have to value them,” Perice said.
“It grounds people in the moment. It keeps people present to the fact that we are alive in this moment, and we can be in relation and community and talk about the things that are positive in this world and positive in our lives.”
In moving the Thanksgiving service to the online realm, it also has the potential to reach far beyond the local communities to people around the globe.
“We have the opportunity to reach four, five, six times the amount of people, and go way beyond our triboro area,” Soper said. “And (viewers) are not tied into Tuesday. That’s one of the good parts about it. They can watch whenever they want to.”
Perice echoed these sentiments.
“That’s the hope,” he said. “This service, this collection of voices, delivering a powerful message in this time, can reach anybody who might not have any idea who we are. You post something online, you share it with your friends and your family, more and more people get to see it and have access to it. How is that not a positive thing?”
Perice explained face-to-face worship is always preferable, but right now, it can’t always be done.
“If you can’t do that, why not try to reach as many people as possible?” he added.
The Thanksgiving service is also an opportunity for the Triboro Clergy Association to accept offerings from those attending, critical funding that helps the group continue its work of supporting the community and helping those in need, particularly with temporary safe housing. The group is planning to incorporate an online giving link for those viewers who are able to contribute.
“We’re blessed. The COVID thing is happening now. If this happened 10 years ago, I’m not sure we had the technology to do all the things we’re able to do,” Soper reflected. “We have this technology to reach people. At home. Across the miles.”
Triboro Clergy Association members include: Asbury United Methodist Church, Temple Sinai, Palmyra Moravian Church, and Covenant Presbyterian Church in Cinnaminson; Bethany Lutheran Church, Central Baptist Church, and Epworth United Methodist Church in Palmyra; Calvary Presbyterian Church, Mount Zion AME Church, and Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Riverton. The Thanksgiving service will be posted on each house of worship’s respective social media pages and websites.