Thanksgiving Lessons & Carols

A Liturgy Created by
Corinne Freedman Ellis & Jeanyne Slettom

Introduction for Worship Planners

It’s hard to know what to do with the first Sunday after Thanksgiving. When it’s the first Sunday in Advent, if you’re in a context that observes the liturgical calendar, it’s a little more straightforward. In years like 2017, however, we all have an extra Sunday to work with.

Thanksgiving celebrations run the risk of feeling trite. How can we give thanks when the premise of this entire holiday is genocide and generational banditry? How can we give thanks when our world is so profoundly broken? How can we give thanks when we’ve just spent the weekend navigating strained relationships, difficult conversations, and painful family dynamics? The shallow proclamation of thanks that we often hear in Thanksgiving worship services just doesn’t ring true.

This Thanksgiving Lessons and Carols service acknowledges both our pain and God’s call to gratitude. It starts in a traditional mood, singing a familiar table blessing, speaking a familiar psalm, and singing a familiar hymn. Then the service moves into a time of introspection and longing, The Lone Wild Bird signaling the shift. As the hymns and readings progress, we move to a place of fuller gratitude for having been to the depths of sorrow. Our faith reminds us that even in death, there is the promise of resurrection.


Prelude (optional)

Invitation to Worship
We come from Thanksgiving tables far and wide, full and empty, joyful and tense, lively and quiet. We hear in scripture that we are supposed to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances, but how can we be thankful:

In grief?
In sickness?
In despair at our chaotic world?
In rage at injustice?
In the fatigue of modern life?
In the reality that the very first Thanksgiving was an extension of the genocide that stole this land from its true stewards?

Today, as we worship, we will begin with the traditional kind of Thanksgiving celebrations, but as we move deeper, we will explore the kind of gratitude to which God calls us. Not the simple kind of gratitude for good things that happen, but gratitude with teeth. Gratitude which keeps hope alive, which carries the promise of resurrection, and which connects us to our Creator. Let us join our hearts in worship.


Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest
Lutheran Service Book #776
Choral or congregational singing

Call to Worship
From Psalm 100 (NRSV)

One:    Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
All:     Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.

One:    Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise.
All:     Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.

One:    For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever,
All:     And God’s faithfulness to all generations.


Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
The United Methodist Hymnal #694


Prayer of Thanksgiving
from The Book of Common Prayer, p.837

Let us give thanks to God for all God’s gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of people, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

 For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

 Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.


Now Thank We All Our God, v.1
The United Methodist Hymnal #102

Passing the Peace

Children’s Message

The Lone, Wild Bird, v.1-2
Voices United #384

“The Crystal Gazer” by Sara Teasdale

Permission to reprint reprint this poem, whether online or in church bulletins, must be obtained from the poet and/or publisher.

The Lone, Wild Bird, v.3-5
Voices United #384

“America, I Sing You Back” by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Permission to reprint reprint this poem, whether online or in church bulletins, must be obtained from the poet and/or publisher.

Canticle of the Turning, v.1 and 4
Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal #100


Psalm 2 (NRSV)

Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.


In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful
Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal #654
Sung 3x through

Mark 4:30-32 (NRSV)

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Pastoral Prayer, Silent Prayer, & Lord’s Prayer (optional)


Offertory (optional)


Prayer of Dedication
Gracious God, your gifts are unending. The smallest seed of promise is transformed into the greatest blessing. We dedicate these gifts to your work of transformation, offering hope in the midst of despair and gratitude in the midst of chaos. Remind us each day that we are participants in your great promise. Amen.


Closing Hymn
How Can I Keep From Singing?
New Century Hymnal #476

Home by Bruce Weigl

Permission to reprint reprint this poem, whether online or in church bulletins, must be obtained from the poet and/or publisher.

Postlude (optional)

Corinne Freedman Ellis serves as Minister of Congregational Life at Macalester Plymouth United Church, a UCC and Presbyterian Church (USA) united congregation located in St. Paul, MN. She is passionate about youth and young adult ministry and finds great joy in facilitating faith formation and fun for those age groups. Corinne is involved with ISAIAH, a faith-based community organizing group in Minnesota, and is energized by God’s call to love and justice, particularly in the areas of immigration and racial justice. A suburban Chicago native, Corinne, her husband Greg, and their Italian Greyhound Vinnie are happy to call Minnesota home as of May of 2016.

Jeanyne Slettom is a UCC minister and theology professor whose primary interest is process-relational theology. A theologian and teacher, writer and publisher, she has taught at Claremont School of Theology and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cites and served churches in California and Minnesota. In addition to being the publisher of Process Century Press and series editor of Toward Ecological Civilization, she is theologian-in-residence at Macalester-Plymouth United Church in St. Paul and an award-winning preacher whose online liturgies and commentaries have been used by practicing preachers around the world. She is passionate about ecotheology, prophetic resistance, and a ministry of transformation and hope. A past director of Process & Faith, her PhD is in Philosophy of Religion and Theology from Claremont Graduate University. She lives and works on the banks of the Mississippi River.