This year’s theme is “The Life…” Today we continue that theme with…..

The Life of a Thanksgiving Tradition

Lauren McDuffie is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church in Morehead, Kentucky.  She graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, and has also spent time serving as a hospital chaplain in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Once a year, I take my church’s youth grocery shopping.  I know that sounds like an odd faith development activity, but bear with me.
There is an organization in our town that collects and distributes Thanksgiving baskets for those who would not otherwise be able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner for their family.  A list of suggested items is distributed a few months ahead of time, and on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, individuals and groups descend with carloads of laundry baskets stuffed full of everything a person could possibly need to make Thanksgiving dinner.
Our church has a long history of filling at least thirty baskets each year, and often many more.  Some of these baskets are filled and brought to the church by Sunday school classes, families, and individuals, but many church members donate funds for our annual Thanksgiving basket project.  That’s where the youth come in.  On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the youth and a few other volunteers pile into cars and head to the local grocery store to buy all the supplies we need to fill at least thirty Thanksgiving baskets.  It’s quite an operation, to say the least.

We’re running up and down the aisles filling carts with cans of green beans and corn, boxes of stuffing and bags of potato flakes, cake mixes, rolls, the list goes on.  We’re taking over multiple check-out lines, and the students are counting how many of each flavor of instant pudding we have and sorting bags of flour and sugar so that it’s easy to see which is which.   Last year was a bit of a zoo, honestly, and being me, I made a list of ways that we can create much less of a hassle for the lovely people at Kroger next year, but no matter how organized we are going in, it’s a pretty big undertaking.  And the kids and youth love it.  We bring everything back and sort it out into the laundry baskets, already lined up on the pews in the chapel, and within half an hour or so the room looks ready to feed a small army.
In one sense, it’s a pretty simple task.  Buy a bunch of food and stick it in some laundry baskets.  But these Thanksgiving baskets are a practical example of what it looks like to get outside of the walls of the church.  They are a ministry that our entire church, in one way or another, gets involved.  This is one of the quintessential examples of how this community of faith sets out to be the Body of Christ.  And the youth are right in the middle of it, taking on a central role in completing the task we set for ourselves each year to feed our neighbor.
There’s a growing body of work in the field of youth ministry that argues for the inclusion of youth, as much as possible, in a genuinely intergenerational community.  This is not to say there isn’t something important to be gained from age-specific activities as well, but gone are the days when every single moment of a teenager’s time in the church house is spent in the youth room.  We’re beginning to recognize that there’s also value in inviting the youth out of the youth room, to involve them in what the rest of the church is up to.  To let them get to know the rest of the church, and let the rest of the church get to know them.
That’s one of the things I love about this Thanksgiving basket tradition.  The youth are not only learning about hunger in their community, they’re also learning about our church’s involvement in responding to that hunger, and becoming leaders in that response.  They are, in short, learning what it means to be the church.
That’s a lot to be gained from grocery shopping.