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A Moment in Time: Thanksgiving Traditions

This morning we conclude our year-long centennial celebration with the ancient and global tradition of the Lord’s Supper, and with our own particular and local tradition of Thanksgiving Dinner.

What is the origin of our Thanksgiving tradition here at Eighth Street? It turns out that pinning down the exact details isn’t so easy. Different documents and memories point to different roots. 

Beginning at least in the 1920s there was an annual Thank-Offering Service conducted in November by the Women’s Missionary Society, with an emphasis on giving to local and world mission. Often the service was held on a Sunday evening, but by 1973 it was functioning as a morning worship theme.

The Crusaders Sunday school class held a Thanksgiving Day dinner in the Church Cabin (built for the Boy Scouts at the back of the church property) in 1935 and for some years thereafter.

There were also church-wide Thanksgiving meals through the years, sometimes carry-in style and sometimes catered by the Kitchen Committee, sometimes at Sunday noon and sometimes on Sunday evening, sometimes coordinated by the Women’s Missionary Society and sometimes planned by the Church Board or the Finance Committee. These meals generally preceded a program with a stewardship theme or a presentation of the church budget or an appeal to give to a particular benevolence. At other times, the program was decidedly not financial in nature, as in 1966 when the theme was “Our everyday spiritual needs.” Thanksgiving meals might feature artist decorations from Art and Cordelia Sprunger, music by the Berne (Ind.) Men’s choir, a Bluffton drama troop, or a home-grown barbershop quartet, depending on the year.

For some time, Eighth Street participated in cosponsoring and taking its turn in hosting a community-wide ecumenical Thanksgiving Day worship service.

Those who want to know exactly how our Thanksgiving tradition began here at Eighth Street may be frustrated. But perhaps our inability to pin down the origin and development is a fitting metaphor for our centennial observation. Our traditions have not been fixed and unchanging, but at their best are dynamic and responsive. It is that sort of living tradition for which we give thanks today and with which we move into our next hundred years as a community of faith. 

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Eighth Street Mennonite Church centennial observance concluded on November 24, 2013 with communion, remembered the date of the congregation’s first communion service, which had been on November 16, 1913 and which had been led by Pastor Alvin K. Ropp assisted by Rev. Allen Yoder of Silver Street Mennonite Church.

Of course, the roots of Thanksgiving as a public holiday in the United States aren’t entirely clear either! During the 1930s and early 1940s different states declared different days (either the third or fourth or fifth Thursdays of November) as a holiday. Only in 1942 did Congress nationalize the date.

Sources: Rachel W. Kreider, The History of the Eighth Street Mennonite Church, 1913-1978 (1987); Harold R. Regier, “Eighth Street Mennonite Church” (1960).