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A Letter from Pastor Mary



Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.4-8). In another letter he said, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18).

I loved learning about the Pilgrims who came to America and the Native Americans who helped them plant crops and shared their harvest. I love the great American story that says they sat down together to feast on a November day, full of thanksgiving for a successful harvest and for the friendship they enjoyed. And I was shattered later to learn that the real story was much more complicated.

Thanksgiving was actually made an annual holiday not by the Pilgrims, but during the Civil War, by proclamation of President Lincoln. The Battle of Gettysburg, which turned the tide of the war toward a Union victory had just been fought. It was probably still too early to know the outcome of the war, the most violent and devastating conflict in history to that date. Yet Lincoln, who was given to melancholy, chose that troubled moment to lead the American people into a moment of giving thanks. Why? Because even with the most disastrous war in history on his front doorstep, he saw there was still much for which to be thankful.

Can we do that, too? Not just this month, when the whole country will join us in counting our blessings, but all the time in bad times and good? Can we step away from the constant bickering in the media, the daily hardships of our own lives, our sense of needing and wanting more to give thanks? Can we rehearse what ought to be our own primary narrative – that I am blessed to be alive, blessed by family, friends, and church, blessed to have what I have?

Here is the full text of what Lincoln wrote. While public speech in the 19th century had a different cadence than we are used to, it speaks to our situation still.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, 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. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.


The Rev. Dr. Mary N. Pugh