Western Territory celebrates Thanksgiving focusing on gratitude in all circumstances

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By Karen Gleason–

Salvationists and friends throughout the USA Western Territory—and beyond—gathered online the evening of Nov. 22 to celebrate Thanksgiving 2020 in a service led by Territorial President of Women’s Ministries and Secretary of Spiritual Life Development Commissioner Colleen Riley. Together with Territorial Commander Commissioner Douglas Riley, they spoke before a dining room table prepared for Thanksgiving. 

For many people with lives derailed by COVID-19, the holidays this year are a challenge. In a three-part message, Colleen Riley reminded congregants that God’s promises hold true even today; God wants to bear our burdens. He also wants us to be in community—we can still do this; it begins through a relationship with him. Finally, she reminded us to share God’s blessings, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting world.

Before and during the service, congregation members greeted one another in the online chat—the opportunity to worship with friends in far-flung places being an advantage of the virtual format. 

As the service began, the cadets of the Messengers of Reconciliation Session presented Bible verses of praise and thanksgiving, culminating in 2 Chronicles 5:13, which led into the congregational song, “All Creatures of Our God and King.”

Douglas Riley welcomed viewers, sharing his belief that despite the year’s trials, “we are bound together by a God who saves and redeems us, provides for us, and shows us mercy and grace every day…it is because of this that we can give thanks to God.” 

He suggested the congregation “focus on the joys of life, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the living, loving presence of Jesus, and the chains that have been broken.” He offered a practical suggestion: “write down the things that you are grateful for—and give thanks to God for them all.” Members of the West’s music groups then performed the song, “Living Hope.”

Colleen Riley began her message about gratitude—being grateful through it all—with 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

She noted that when things are going well, this is easy to do; not so much when times are hard, as they are now. “I find though, that in the times of struggle, those are the times that I need to lean on [God] most and to trust him and his guiding hand,” she said. “These are the times that I believe that we grow the most.”

She spoke of a challenging time in her life when, instead of casting her burden upon God, she was relying on her own strength. The message in 1 Thessalonians eluded her; she was ungrateful, unthankful. 

“Learn from me,” she said. “Don’t try to do this in your own strength, lean on Christ. Be thankful in all circumstances and pray continually to him.”

When she reached the point of realizing that God wanted to carry her burden, she experienced a release. She said she is grateful for the lessons she has learned, and she knows God is present in all circumstances. “God…never waivers and he always carries us through.”

Recalling Philippians 4:12-13, she spoke of Paul, a man who endured many trials because of his faith, but who maintained a grateful heart. “Paul reminds us that in the midst of our trials, we know where our strength comes from. And it begins with gratitude in all circumstances…I pray you can release your burdens to God—you don’t have to carry them alone.”

After The Western Territory Staff Songsters supported this theme with the song “Carry These Burdens Alone,” Douglas Riley thanked all the musicians who are continuing to provide music and worship support to the territory, even from their homes. He also spoke about the increased need in the territory this holiday season, and encouraged all Salvationists to help make a difference by hosting a virtual red kettle

Douglas Riley then recalled Adelaide Lyons’ (Seattle Temple Corps) rendition of “Count Your Blessings,” which she recorded for this past summer’s Encore program. Her recording received thousands of views on Facebook and YouTube. After viewing her performance, the congregation could join in singing “Prayer of Thanksgiving.”

In the second part of her message, Colleen Riley focused on what many people feel so keenly these days—not being able to gather in person and losing the sense of community. Community still exists, she said. It exists through our relationship with God through Jesus. She encouraged listeners to take time every day to commune with God, and offered a practical suggestion: make a gratitude jar, each day adding something to it.

She emphasized the two commands Jesus gave in Matthew 22:37-39, and said: “We can’t truly love God and fellowship with Christ without loving others. Our love, devotion and service to others in the name of Christ is a genuine demonstration of our communion with Christ.” 

After calling for people to reach out to “someone who may need it most” this Thanksgiving, she introduced the Share Change video “Asylum,” which tells the story of the Seruyange family, who, fearing for their lives, left Uganda—and a prosperous life there—to seek asylum in the U.S. They left with nothing but their passports and the clothes on their backs, and arrived in Los Angeles essentially penniless. After some difficult weeks, a God-directed chain of events led them to Captains Terry and Rutendo Masango and the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps, where they found a new, extended family. After the video, Barbara Allen performed the song, “Thankful.”

Colleen Riley then shared the story of how her parents always set extra places at their table at Thanksgiving and other times of the year. 

“I came to realize that this wasn’t just an invitation for turkey and all the fixings, but rather it was an invitation of love and acceptance,” she said. She recalled Matthew 25:35-36, and said: “In serving others, we are serving Christ. In sharing our table of Thanksgiving, we are sharing it with Christ.” She called the congregation to “consider how you can be the hands and feet of Jesus, inviting the whosoever to your table and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who need to hear it.”

The service concluded with the song, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” sung by some of the West’s families, including Majors Beverley and James Lloyd, currently serving as Stowmarket Corps Officers in the United Kingdom. Douglas Riley offered a Thanksgiving blessing prayer, which was followed by a choral benediction.

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