for Thanksgiving: A Table Full of Hope

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At Thanksgiving, many people share what they’re currently thankful for.  This idea provides a tangible way for the community to wonder about what they hope to be thankful for in a year from now.  Writing or drawing these “thankful hopes” on plates further reminds us of our daily bread and God’s provision — past, present, and future.

During worship, members will be invited to answer the question:  What would you like to be thankful for, one year from now?

  1.  Each member can write their answer on a paper plate.
  2.  The plates are collected during offering.
  3.  Ushers stack the plates and bring them forward with the offering.
  4.  Communion is served using the plates.

Through this, the congregation physically contributes to the communion table, and sees their hopes gathered into one.  Jesus’ promise to be present in the breaking of the bread extends into our past, present, and our future.  Our hopes are gathered into God.

Related scripture:
* Deuteronomy 8:7-18        * Psalm 65        * Luke 17:11-19

Liturgical elements involved:
* Offering       * Communion

Appropriate for:
* Sunday before Thanksgiving
* Sunday after Thanksgiving
* Thanksgiving Day service if there is communion
* Thanksgiving Eve

Supplies needed:
– paper plates (any type), one for each person
– pens or permanent markers, one for each person
( Washable markers don’t play well with paper plates because of the plates’ wax coating.  If you find purely paper plates, feel free to use regular markers, but otherwise, pens or permanent markers are the smear-free choice. )

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Key people:
– Ushers (whoever collects offering):  distribute and collect plates
– Altar guild and assisting ministers (those who set the altar and help serve communion):  use plate stack as communion plates
– Pastor

Preparation:
1.  Get supplies.
2.  Consider when plates and pens will be distributed.  Some options are:
– with bulletins as congregation arrives
– after the children’s sermon, with the help of the children
– at the beginning of offering

It is okay to pass out plates before explaining why.  This generates curiosity!

Clarify with ushers when this will happen.

3. Decide when, during worship, the question will be offered.  Some options are:
– as a conclusion to the sermon
– at the conclusion of the Peace, and the beginning of the offering

4.  Prepare communion bread for easy transfer onto the stack of plates.
– If your congregation uses wafers, set the altar table with the wafers on matching paper plates, so they can be easily set on top of the stack.
– Prepare to split the stack of plates into the number of “plates” needed — if you have two communion stations, you’ll need two stacks, etc.

Clarify with whoever sets the altar and serves communion.

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Liturgy:

Question prompt by the leader:
We know the season of Thanksgiving is a time of thanks.  Into that gratefulness enters the promise of God, who celebrates with us not only our past and present joys but also our future hopes.  Each of you have a paper plate and a pen/marker.  Take some time now to wonder:  What would you like to be thankful for, one year from now?  Write or draw it on your plate.  You don’t need to sign your name, and you won’t need to share it.  In a few minutes, our ushers will collect and stack them, and they will be used later in worship.

At the conclusion of offering:
Ushers collect the paper plates, stack them, and bring them forward to the altar with other offerings (money baskets, bread, wine).

Before communion begins:
Assistants or pastor set the communion bread on the plates.

During communion:
Before the invitation to the table, the presider lifts the stack of plates with bread and says:

“Holy One, we bring you our prayers, our gratitude, our fears, our hopes for the next year.  Feed us with your grace, that we might know and see you in every time and place.  May you be known to us past, present, and future in the breaking of the bread.”  Presider gives plates and bread to communion assistants.

After worship:
These plates hold deep hopes, and should be treated with respect.  Pastors or other leaders may want to read through them and pray over them in a private setting.  Plates can then be discarded or recycled.

Printable PDF

Photos and input from participating congregations:

Humble Walk Lutheran Church, Saint Paul Minn
Humble Walk Lutheran Church, Saint Paul Minn

From intern Stef Fauth-Lemke at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO:

I just wanted to share with you how the plates of future hope exercise went for us. We used it on Thanksgiving Eve service, and I tailored my sermon around thinking about what God might be doing in the present and hope for the future. I had wondered about how many people would participate – but we had a great rate of participation. So much so, it was hard to hold all the plates in order to serve communion. It was a lovely problem to have. In the future, I might arrange to have more up front to look at, or additional servers so I could use both hands to hold the stack.

We also received a lot of positive feedback immediately following the service for the participatory element, and the symbolism of stacking them together as a symbol of our community. I think possibly the best part, besides holding this giant stack of hopes and feeling honored that people were willing to share is that it appealed to all ages and all types – some colored and doodled, some wrote deep and private things, it seemed all encompassing and well received.

Thanks for sharing this with us, and if you have any interest to see what it looked like in around a 300+ worship, the link to our archive is here:  http://www.bethanylive.org/?page_id=727

Thanks again!

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7 thoughts on “for Thanksgiving: A Table Full of Hope

  1. A church I visited recently has deep window-wells at the front of the church. A cross stands in the central one; the two on the sides are currently occupied by a nice display of gourds, pumpkins, a basketwork cornucopia, autumn leaves, etc. – all interspersed with colored paper cards on which members of the congregation have written things they’re thankful for. I didn’t have a chance to ask when/under what circumstances the cards were generated – and I would certainly say the display was created at leisure and by a skilled hand, and not during worship. So possibly not exactly an interactive worship element, per se; but I like the gathering of people’s thanksgivings and then using them as a decorative element in the worship space.

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  2. I’m looking at this for an ecumenical service on the night before Thanksgiving. I might invite people to write a past-tense “thank you” on the bottom of the plate first, then a future-tense “hope” on the top. I don’t think we’re having Communion, but I can send the plates home with people to incorporate somehow into their Thanksgiving meals the next day – as a bread plate, or a liner under their real plate, something like that.

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  3. We used this at my internship congregation site – it went amazingly, I was very happy with how it turned out! It was a little hard to hold such a large stack of plates while distributing…but perhaps some could stay on the altar, were I to do it again. Thanks for this!

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