By Debbie Adams
Vinton Wesleyan Church hosted this year’s Community Thanksgiving Service on Nov. 20, joined by Vinton Baptist, Lynn Haven Baptist, Parkway Church on the Mountain, and Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church.
The service was filled with song, prayer, scripture, laughter, and a Thanksgiving message.
Soloists included Vinton Wesleyan pianist Denis Looney, Olivia Foster, a student at Read Mountain Middle School, who sang “In Jesus Name,” Steve Whorley from Vinton Wesleyan who sang “There’s Always a Place at the Table,” and Beth Radford from Lynn Haven Baptist who performed “My Tribute.”
Dr. Ken Nicely from Vinton Baptist and his brother, Randy Nicely, from Villa Heights Baptist, sang “How Great Thou Art,” accompanied by Gari Melchers, also from Vinton Baptist. Dr. Nicely noted that “not every day is easy but “blessed is the name of the Lord whatever we are going through.”
Joyce Rodriguez, Music Director at Vinton Wesleyan, led the congregation in several Thanksgiving hymns.
The Rev. Ricardo Rodriguez from Vinton Wesleyan welcomed guests and his own congregation to the service. Dr. John Ott, from Parkway Church on the Mountain, led a responsive reading of thanksgiving to God. The Rev. Travis Russell from Vinton Baptist read the Scripture from 1 Thessalonians 5-16-18, a letter from Paul to the Christians in Thessalonica on how to live their lives, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Eric Mills from the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club described the Christmas shopping project the local Lions established and have continued for 37 years. The Lions spend a morning shopping for students in need from Herman L. Horn and W.E. Cundiff Elementary Schools selected by the guidance counselors. Pre-COVID students went along on the shopping trips with Lions Club members. In recent years, the Lions have received lists of sizes and needs from the guidance counselors and done the shopping for the students. Generally, about 20 students are chosen and receive gifts of clothing and one toy, at a cost of about $125 per child. The love offering taken at the Thanksgiving service was designated for the Lions project.
Darrell English, who is turning 96 on Dec. 10, delivered the offertory prayer. He has lived his entire life in Vinton, other than time served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He still teaches Sunday School—now for 65 years. He thanked God for the fellowship and rejoicing of multiple churches at the Community Thanksgiving Service—“we all going to the same place.”
The Rev. Jonathan Moelker, pastor at Campbell Memorial Presbyterian, brought the Thanksgiving message. He shared that he is new to Campbell Memorial (August 2021) and to preaching— this is his first full-time job as a pastor.
He explained that minister’s jobs sometimes have unexpected requirements—things you don’t necessarily learn in seminary. One of those he has found difficult is finding clever sayings to go on the church sign. He joked that after having no success at finding a Thanksgiving saying on Google, he turned to a different source—the Bible; and found the passage from Thessalonians, “rejoice, give thanks, and pray.”
“Simple enough advice,” he noted, except that Paul said to “Rejoice always; pray always, give thanks always. There are times when I find these things difficult to do. And sometimes they don’t seem very appropriate. There are times when rejoicing simply isn’t called for, when the most important things are all wrong and giving thanks doesn’t make any sense. As for praying without ceasing… that will probably get in the way of everything else you are trying to do with your day.
“I want to be clear that God isn’t bargaining here. This isn’t a negotiation. There is no equation that so long as you pray enough and with enough fervor God will only give you things worth rejoicing and giving thanks over.
“Paul certainly knew that. His life was full of dangerous twists and turns. He often found himself in and out of prison, chased in and out of cities, beaten by public officials, and, after a lengthy legal process, he was eventually executed. Hardly a life that would inspire joy and thanksgiving.
“And yet he regularly writes of his own joy. In some of his letters, we find Paul rejoicing from prison itself! He wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison saying, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’! Joy and thanksgiving are recurring themes in the letters that Paul wrote again and again in all sorts of circumstances.
“When you read this passage the first time through, you probably read this as hyperbole, a little bit of an overstatement, like really, we are just supposed to give thanks a lot, pray a lot, and rejoice a lot. But Paul means do it all the time, live an entirely new way of life; respond first with joy and thanksgiving.
“I think we have a tendency to undercount our prayers. We only think about something as a prayer if it starts with ‘Lord God’ and ends with ‘Amen.’ Or we only think about something as a prayer if we are thinking upward as we say it; if it’s explicitly a prayer.
“There is much more to prayer than that. You don’t have to point upward to make something a prayer. Prayer is when we talk to God, right? God isn’t like Siri or Alexa, waiting for us to activate them. God is always listening. The way that we live our life is the most important prayer. Every action we take is part of a lifelong conversation with God. Our life is one long prayer.
“We can embrace life as a prayer, living our life with complete joy because every moment of our lives we are in the presence of God– when we are walking down the street there is joy because God is with us.
“If we, like Paul, are in prison, then we are in prison with God. If we are being executed, even there, God is with us. Who more so, since Jesus himself was executed, killed on a cross?
“God’s desire for us is not that we are simply happy all the time. Paul isn’t trying to say that we should just ignore all the miserable parts of life in favor of putting on a fake smile. Instead, Paul is reminding us that in all times, God is not as far away as we might picture. Even when we can’t imagine how God is close, God is always right there– not looking over your shoulder like a school principal, but near like a loving parent, who is never far away. It’s like when you were a child–you fell off the swings and Mom was there before you even realized that you had to cry. That’s what God is like. God is there, comforting us, before we have even begun to shed tears.
“We typically only notice God in the highs and lows of life. But as Paul says, God’s hope for us in Christ Jesus is that we are always aware of God’s presence. Aware with thanksgiving, aware as a prayer, aware and rejoicing that God is there always, without ceasing, and in all circumstances.”