Thursday, November 25, 2004

Worshippers from across the region prayed for their families — and their loved ones serving in the military overseas — at the Thanksgiving Day service at Washington National Cathedral in Northwest yesterday.

The Rev. Canon W. Bruce McPherson, who delivered the service’s sermon, said the day is an opportunity to give praise to God and to help the less fortunate.

“The leaves have turned and fallen, the pumpkins have been carved and lit, and winter is right around the corner,” Father McPherson said. “But there is one more ritual to be observed. This is a time to embrace the wounded and hungry of our family and of the world, to share with others as God has shared with us.”

An estimated 250 people turned out for the 10 a.m. service, despite gusty winds and scattered showers. During the two-hour service, men, women and children of all faiths filled the wooden pews and gave thanks, as a choir filled the cathedral’s halls with song and prayer.

Andrew Pak, 41, of Wheaton, was among those who attended the service. He said he was thankful for many things this holiday season.

“I’m thankful for my family, and the blessings God has bestowed upon me and my family,” Mr. Pak said.

Others prayed for their loved ones who are serving overseas.

Randolph Walker, 50, of Northwest said he is grateful for his nephew Geoffie, who is stationed in Iraq.

“He’s been out there for six months,” Mr. Walker said. “I’m grateful that he’s safe.”

Father McPherson told worshippers that the everyday hustle in today’s society can tear up a family. But people can mend the family on Thanksgiving, he said.

“We are pilgrim people. In our wanderings, we become scattered. Thanksgiving is a pilgrimage home,” he said during his sermon. “Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, children and grandchildren get together to tell exaggerated stories, reminisce, laugh, love and eat. We get pulled back to that place that everyone calls home.”

Thanksgiving in America has been celebrated since the early 1600s.

The governing council of Charlestown, Mass., declared the first formal Thanksgiving proclamation on June 20, 1676, almost 55 years after colonists of Plymouth, Mass., held a three-day celebration of food and feasting with American Indian chiefs and their tribes in the fall of 1621.

George Washington, in his first year as president, proclaimed the first Thanksgiving in 1789.

Washington designated Nov. 26 as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” saying the day should “be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many single favors of Almighty God.”

During his presidency, Washington wrote letters to places of worship to show his support for their religious beliefs and to encourage churches to unite and promote peace.

Abraham Lincoln, in a 1863 presidential Thanksgiving proclamation, issued a decree calling for Americans to observe the last Thursday of November as a national holiday.

In 1939, President Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November to extend the Christmas shopping season and to boost the nation’s economy. After much protest, Roosevelt changed the holiday in 1941 back to the fourth Thursday in November.

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