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The following topics have bunches of Thanksgiving and Stewardship -related ideas and resources, as well as links to other topics in our Bible Story forums related to thanksgiving and stewardship. If you have a specific Bible story in mind that teaches thankfulness, gratitude, or stewardship, look it up in our Bible Story Lesson Forums.

Here are three of the most popular "thanksgiving" stories: Parable of the Talents, The Thankful Leper, and Widow's Mite.

Please also see our "Thanksgiving and Stewardship in 2020 and 2021" topic below for ideas specific to giving thanks and being good stewards during the 2020 and 2021 COVID pandemic.

Need help with a lesson idea? Post your question in our Teachers Lounge.


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This topic thread highlights some of the special resources, lessons, and ideas here at Rotation.org that seem particularly appropriate for Thanksgiving and Stewardship in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID pandemic.

Below we've also created or collected some new resources for just such a time as this!



In addition to the ideas posted below, here are some resource highlights from our "normal year" Thanksgiving ideas forum would also work well in this "not so normal" year.

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Jesus wants us to count a different kind of blessing

A Thanksgiving 2020-21 Point of View

"Thanksgiving in the midst of struggle" is one of the reoccurring themes in the Bible. In fact, there is no better time to "count your blessings" than when you realize they can't be taken for granted.

HOWEVER, NONE of the "usual blessings" we tend to count at Thanksgiving are on Jesus' list of blessings known as The Beatitudes. Nary a "food," "shelter," "grandma," or "family" among them.  

Instead, the blessings Jesus wants us to count tend to be spiritual and aspirational:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit (i.e. those who know they're lacking)

  • Blessed are the meek for they will inherit (possess, understand, i.e. the humble get it!)

  • Blessed are those who mourn (who know the value of what they've truly lost)

  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (who strive for what God wants)

In light of our pandemic struggles and Jesus' definition of "blessing,"  the typical "glib" blessings we tend to pray about and teach about just don't seem right. Starting and ending with thanking God for our dog, health, toys, and home (not matter how creative we try to dress it up) are missed opportunities to go deeper, especially this year.

So what might "Jesus & COVID-struggle-inspired thanksgivings" sound like this year?

How about...

  • Thank you for reminding us that we really DO depend on each other, whether we like each other or not.
  • Thank you for the humble reminder our of mortality — that life is a gift.
  • Thank you for teaching us that the church is more than a building and set of programs.
  • Thank you for the blessing of gathered worship which we had taken for granted.
  • Thank you for teachers and schools, for waiters and daycare workers and first-responders.
  • And thank you for the self-less "lesson of the mask" -- that it's not what goes in, but literally and figuratively what comes out of our mouths — that we should be concerned about. Help us to heed our words, put aside our personal comforts, and care about the safety of others.
  • Thank you for giving us life that is full of challenging lessons, and for the humility to learn them.


What would you add to this list of pandemic-era Blessings?

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Giving during the pandemic

A short stewardship discussion for older children, youth, and adults

Question: Do you think "giving" to the church went up or down during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer: It did both!

The following chart shows the results of two surveys of churches on "giving" during the pandemic, one early in the pandemic, and one a few months later. Below it are some possible questions to ask.




https://religionnews.com/2020/...er-pandemic-started/

A Few Questions

  • Why do you think some churches saw their giving go up and some go down?
  • Did your personal giving go up or down?
  • Is it wrong for you to give LESS when you are not able to go to church? (That seems to be what the survey results are suggesting, that attendance and giving are strongly linked.)
  • What is the potential long-term "damage" to church finances, budgets, programs, and staff when giving decreases?
  • Should church members "give more" once the pandemic is over to "make up" for the amount of gifts they were not able to give due to the pandemic?  
  • What other things can you do to be a good steward when you don't have money to give?

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Gratitude Ball Toss
Questions for Kids

An at-home or in-class discussion game about Gratitude during the pandemic.

The questions can be written on the different panels of a beach ball which is then tossed and caught -- and whichever question your right hand is on you must answer. They can also be written on the sides of a large decorated square box and rolled like a dice to determine which question the roller has to answer. Add numbers to each question too if you want to "advance X number of spaces" on a board game (squares on the floor or drawn on paper).

Due the pandemic...

  • Name an activity that you missed this year?

  • Name a person you are really looking forward to spending more time with once things return to "normal"?

  • What difficulty have you experienced that has taught you a good lesson?

  • What have you learned you can do without and still be happy?

  • What have you missed about our church?

  • What changes have you learned you need to make in your life and habits?

  • Name something positive that has come out of the pandemic for you.

  • What lesson from the pandemic do you think God wants his people to remember once it is over?

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Preparing for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving during a pandemic is stressful for a lot of reasons.

  • Some family members won't be joining the usual Thanksgiving family feast..
  • Closures of restaurants, travel restrictions, and the reticence to join with local friends will put a crimp on alternative solutions and celebrations. This will be especially hard on single younger and older people.
  • Traditional Thanksgiving school activities, such as feasts and plays curtailed or traditions that are altered or new.
  • Thanksgiving in 2020 and 2021 comes during a politically divisive and financially challenging time for many.

One of the most important things the church can do is PREPARE our church members and kids to deal with the stresses and be on the look-out for those in need.

Here are two ideas to help prepare people for Thanksgiving 2020 and 2021

1. A Thanksgiving Instruction Video

Have your church kids and leaders record "Thanksgiving Instructional Videos" that prep church members in a humorous way to be thinking about the challenges and needs this year.

For example:

  • "What and what not to say or do this year at Thanksgiving Dinner."
  • Signs of Stress to Watchout For (but real and humorous)
  • "Upping your Gratitude instead of Attitude"
  • "How to Leave an Empty Chair at this Year's Dinner"
  • How Kids can help reduce stress and sadness (do's and dont's at home).

You could create the video's "script" in class and then record individual kids reading individual portions of it.

Some serious subjects you could creatively address:

  • Who in your congregation or neighborhood will be alone this year if you don't invite them to safely join your Thanksgiving meal?  Or take them a portion of your meal?
  • What can you do in advance to reach out to family and church members to "check in" on their plans and identify needs?
  • How can you serve and set places for everyone differently this year to make everyone feel safe?
  • What's your plan to "ramp up" your calls and "Facetiming" to those who can't be with you?
  • What "gratitude" actions and activities can you undertake to make this year's Thanksgiving meal a little more meaningful for all concerned?  (Suggest several.)
  • Leave a chair or place empty for those not with you. ("Empty chairs" are have been used in religious rituals such as Passover and as a way military families remember those they've lost.)

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2. Thanksgiving: When Donating Food Matters Even More

Due to COVID-related job and wage losses, more people are seeking food pantry assistance. If ever there was a year when traditional food donations need to be increased, this is it. Helping others is also a great way to put your own stress in perspective.

  1. Make copies of a list of groceries that your local food pantry suggests.
  2. Paste them to brown paper bags and distribute them in church.
  3. Save and distribute some of the brown bags to your NEIGHBORS (who will also drop them off at your church too, bonus!).
  4. Mail a grocery bag to someone who can't join you for Thanksgiving and ask them to "join you in putting food on the table of someone in need."

.

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Take-Home Game Kits to Encourage Gratitude Discussion at Home

There are some really good "questions to ask" in the previous posts, but the challenge is getting church members to do them at home. That's where assembling and handing out "take-home game kits" can really help.

Plastic arrow spinners can be purchased in bulk quite inexpensively. They snap onto a paper plate or piece of paper on which you've written several "spinner" numbers.(see below).

Have the church supply the questions as "cards." These can be stacked on a simple hand-drawn gameboard. Players spin and advance across the gameboard -- answering a question from the stack each time they come to stop. It's okay to have questions repeat.

Sunday School kids could decorate and number the plates and attach the spinners, as well as draw the gameboard (Lots of gameboard templates online too. Google "gameboard blank squares" or similar).

bulkspinnersspinnerboardsquares

A Few Additional Questions to Suggest (in addition to some in previous posts above)

  1. What's one thing GOD is grateful for about the person on your left?
  2. Who do you miss that's no longer alive and what are you grateful for about their life?
  3. What daily things would Jesus tell you to be grateful for now and increase in the year ahead?
  4. Gratefully name someone not with you right now who changed your life in a positive way.
  5. What lesson have you learned about life this past year?
  6. Move back 3 squares if you have been depressed or sad about something in the past month, then move forward 2 squares if you did something positive to respond to your sadness.
  7. Move forward one square if you did something today that someone in the game is grateful to you for doing.
  8. Move forward 3 squares if you gave thanks to God in prayer today for more than a minute (move forward 1 square if you forgot but take 30 seconds now to pray).
  9. Move forward 1 square if the person on your right says something about you that they are grateful for.
  10. Move forward one square is you say out loud the name of someone who inspires you to be a better person.


Tip: Ask the pastor to suggest questions. Perhaps they can even be part of the liturgy or sermon.

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Free to Everyone: The Parable of the Talents software game

You can share this free downloadable software game about Stewardship this season with your families. Add some follow-up questions and instructions when you distribute it.

Because of the way this game is designed, you could also run the game on your computer and share your game screen via ZOOM.  Here's an article about how to share a program on your screen with your Zoomers.

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Two visual thanksgiving resources from the pages of Rotation.org

Thankful-Rotation.org

Click to open and save full size.



Psalm 8 is a song of thanksgiving as well as a "song of creation" as it is traditional taught.
Why? Because like thanksgiving, Ps 8 gets us looking up and seeing the blessings that surround us. The following music video was created for the Rotation.org Writing Team's Psalm 8 lesson set. It meshes dramatic Ps 8 scenes with one of Train's most popular songs, "When I Look to the Sky."

Psalm 8's "Secret" (from the Writing Team's Ps 8 Bible Background)

It is traditional to interpret Psalm 8 as a Psalm of "Creation," extolling God's majestic Creation and our place in it, and it certainly does that. But Psalm 8 has a secret.  And it's a secret you already know -if you've ever looked up to see the stars surrounding you at night.

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A time-exposure photo of the Milky Way.

In Psalm 8, the Psalmist is making a visual comparison between how the heavens surround and shine on the earth, and how God surrounds and shines on us.  The Hebrew word we translate as "crowned," as in, "crowned us with glory...." actually means "surrounded." The Psalmist is in awe of the heavens that "surround" him, and makes the connection with how God's awesome glory surrounds us, even, "embraces" us. Throughout the lessons in this set we're going to make that point to help your students visualize this important insight.

Especially in a year like 2020, when you look around, blessings may be hard to spot.

But when you look up...

surrounded

All thy works with joy surround thee,
earth and heaven reflect thy rays,
stars and angels sing around thee,
center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
flowery meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain,
call us to rejoice in thee.

Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

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TiP: See the next post for a suggestion that turns the following into an activity for in-church or at-home.

Should we thank God for our health?

Children typically thank God for things they already have: health, family, a dog. The danger in encouraging that type of prayer, or failing to grow past it, is that they will only think of God as some sort of divine "giver and taker," ...and that is not what Jesus taught. Or worse, they risk becoming like the Pharisee that Jesus described in Luke 18 who somehow felt he was more righteous and favored by God because he was not like those "sinners" over there.

The road to atheism is paved with unanswered prayers.

Pharisee-thankyounotlike

Having health is not always a choice or a gift.

Disease is not a curse, it's a condition.

The kind of healing most people need
doesn't show up on an x-ray or lab result.

Pray Kids stock illustration. Illustration of smile, preschool - 77404211

What then should we be thankful for --especially in these changing and challenging days?

Here's a starter list...

Be thankful that God opens eyes, mends hearts, and changes lives --beginning with your own.

Be thankful that every day and encounter brings with it the opportunity to become more like Jesus --more loving, more compassionate, and closer to God's Spirit.

Be thankful that God will always love you and care for you no matter what.

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Two Gratitude Prayer Activities for Class or Home Use

It's super helpful to turn discussion into an activity rather than a speech. Here are two fun ways you can do that on the subject of thanksgiving and gratitude that give you plenty of opportunity to share insights.

1. Prayer Bowls

Label three bowls and place them on the table:

Bowl 1: Things I should or should not ask God for.  Write "should ask for" on one side of a card in the bowl, and "probably should not ask for" on the other side of the card. When it's your turn and you have to play this bowl, take the card out and flip it like a coin and answer the question that lands face up.

Bowl 2: Something in my life that I want to thank God for (to be shared aloud)

Bowl 3:  Something God has given us to do that we are thankful for.
(whole group must come up with an answer)



Take turns rolling a dice to see "which bowl" to interact with.

See more Prayer activity and resources here at Rotation.org

2. Pantomime Prayer Head Bands:

"Things We Should Be Grateful to God For"

Write the following "gratitude clues" on small cards and place them face down on the table. Seated in a circle,  on their turn a "player" lifts one card to their forehead without looking at what's written on the card --and so that only the other players can see what it is.

One at a time, each of the other players PANTOMIMES what's on the card and the player tries to guess what's on the card.

After several attempts, the player holding the card can ask the entire group some questions. They can answer without using any of the words on the card.

Possible "Grateful for" cards:      Life, Love, Faith, Jesus, Salvation, Friends, Being Able to Talk With God, forgiveness, The Bible. People who love me, Laughter. After your first round, have each player come up with new cards.




Note: I'm not here to argue with Bible verses that say "ask for everything/anything" when you pray. To me, those verses are more about the closeness we should feel with God --that we can say anything even if it's "off" or unrealistic. God wants to hear it all, but doesn't want us to stop there. God wants us to listen and learn, and figure out what NOT to pray about (see Luke 18 for one such example). My understanding of prayer is embodied in the great "Serenity Prayer" first published in 1932 by theologian Reihold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

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