This testimony was presented during worship on November 20 at Church of Christ, Congregational, Newington, CT, where Mr. Wentworth is a member.
So here is a short Thanksgiving story. My first semester of college was hard. I was 400 miles away from my family and friends in western New York and things weren't going well. For the first time in my life I felt lonely and alone. I didn't tell anyone back home or any of my high school friends who all seemed to be having the time of their lives at their colleges. I guess I thought if I did say something, I'd be admitting some kind of failure.
Anyway, by the weekend before Thanksgiving, I couldn't wait any longer. On Sunday, I found a ride that took me the 6 hours to Brewster, NY, and as you could do in those days, I then stood on the side of I-84 with my duffle bag and a sign that said "New Britain." It was almost dark by the time I got to my house and because I had wanted to surprise my family, of course, no one was there. So I waited on the front steps and, after a while, the family car pulled into the driveway, and my mother and father and brother all jumped out. We all hugged. My mother cried, and my dad told me I needed a haircut. At that moment, anything wrong in my life seemed to just disappear. And 46 years later, I still remember thinking, "Wow, I'm really home."
So that is why, as much as I love turkey and pies and green bean casserole, as much as I look forward to the noise and the laughter and the occasional meltdown at the Thanksgiving table, as much as I live for all day football and lapsing into a food coma on the couch, as much as I treasure every holiday moment with my family, I find my thoughts wandering this morning to all of those people out there travelling the long hours, the congested highways, the many miles from big cities and small towns, in planes, trains and automobiles – all trying to get home to a welcoming hug and a meal with the people they love.
For a lot of people, this has been a hard year. Many are worried about their country; they see acts of hate and violence directed at people because of their race, their religion, the language they speak. There are families afraid they will be broken apart or have to leave the country they love, couples worried about losing the right to marriage they fought so hard to secure, people worried about losing their health insurance. Instead of teaching lessons in civic duty and democracy, we spent the past few months trying to protect our children from what is vulgar and mean-spirited. And all this while many in this room face their own personal struggles, family challenges, and health crises that make the storms outside the door pale by comparison.
So when the world seems too much, it is important that we find our way back to that table with the people we love, and that we go around the table to tell God and each other what we are thankful for.
So we come to this sanctuary to remind ourselves of the fundamental lessons of our faith – that all people, whatever their background or circumstance, are equal in God's eyes, that all people deserve our love and respect. That we may feel alone, but we are not. So when the world seems too much, it is important that we find our way back to that table with the people we love, and that we go around the table to tell God and each other what we are thankful for.
So just as the youngest child at the table says, "I am thankful for this food," I am grateful that there are so many in this Church committed to the idea that no one should go hungry. And that this is a value that children raised in this church embrace as they become young adults. Whether it is feeding the homeless in Hartford, making beef stew for the Friendship Center, collecting food for the Newington Food Pantry or turkeys for Food Share, I am so grateful for the many ways that we gather together to share our own bounty with those who are not sure where their next meal will come from.
And just as a child at the table says, "I am thankful for this house," I am grateful that this Church is a real sanctuary for so many who need a place to come in from the storm. That as a congregation, we are ready to open our doors wide to provide safety and warmth to those who are hurting or just wandering in the darkness. I am so proud that our Church is a leader in building the first Family Promise chapter in Connecticut. That we will honor the most fundamentally Christian of promises – to give shelter to those without a home, to give a hand up to those struggling to get back on their feet, and to help keep families together while doing it. For years, generations of our church family have embraced this promise by serving families in Appalachia. The idea of bringing that kind good work inside our doors – well, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, it "knocks me out, I fall apart."
And just as a father at the table says, "I am thankful for my country," I am grateful to be part of a faith that shares its colonial roots with the beginnings of our nation. I am humbled that our story in fact began with people immigrating to this land in order to escape persecution and worship freely. And I love that our faith traditions are so interwoven with the democratic principles that allow us to thrive. That I can stand here this morning – that any of you can stand here – and find your own voice to praise God is a privilege that most of the world can only imagine. And because it is so precious, we should never take it for granted.
And just as a mother at the table says, "I am thankful for my family," I am grateful to be a part of this church family. I am grateful for the all the people I have gotten to know here who live by the philosophy that there is always room for one more at the table. And I am so proud to be part of a group that is preparing us to formally become a church that is open and affirming. And to experience not only the overwhelming enthusiasm and support of the congregation, but the personal stories of so many of you in this room who – now more than ever – want to make a strong, clear, positive, hopeful statement that all are welcome to worship in this house, regardless of race, age, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or disability, whatever your background or circumstance. To paraphrase Steven Covey – Our strength lies in our differences, not in our similarities.
I am so grateful to live in a country where we are able to express our own opinions and beliefs.
I read a line last week from a woman who is a political activist in Iran that keeps playing in my head. She said, "The best way to resist any form of oppression is to become more myself." I am so grateful to live in a country where we are able to express our own opinions and beliefs. And I am thankful that God brought Barbara and I to this place to be part of a church family that allows all of us to become more ourselves. Ok, one more Hamilton line: "Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
In the next few days, as you prepare to gather at your own tables, take a moment to remember the travelers who are out there. Maybe they're feeling alone or tired. They may be frightened or have secrets they're afraid to share, but they are all trying to get back to a place that is safe and warm and welcoming. So set another place at the table. And thank God for watching over all of us as we try to make our way home. Amen.
We invite users of this website to post comments in response to posts published here. In order to maintain a respectful community, we insist that comments be polite, respectful and tolerant of opposing viewpoints. We reserve the right to remove comments that are hostile, hateful or abusive to others, or that constitute personal attacks. In the interest of transparency, we highly recommend that users comment using their full names. For those who feel a need for more anonymity, however, we will allow posts using first names and last initial.