Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The No Turkey Thanksgiving Feast

During my 28 years in youth ministry the Sunday before Thanksgiving always held a very special significance. For many years I was often in New York City (come back for tomorrow's post) with some of my youth in the days preceding the holiday. Some years it was because I was attending a National Youth Workers Convention during that weekend. And for a few special years it was because the Sunday before- and on at least a few occasions the Sunday after- Thanksgiving was the home of The No Turkey Thanksgiving Feast!

The concept of TNTTF was very simple and elegant. All of the youth and their families were invited to the church during our normal Sunday evening youth group time to share in a meal and worship together. Every one was asked to bring food to share, and there was only one guideline- NO TURKEY! We knew there would be enough of that in the days to follow- or we didn't want their leftovers. It just depended on the year. This was a way of seeking to connect with the families of our students, many of whom were not church members. It was also a simple means of celebrating all we had to be thankful for, as families, individuals and a group. I tried to be as creative as possible with worship, allowing lots of participation and sharing- never a sermon! Over the years we only got to do this a handful of times, but each experience was significant and meaningful. It was just one more way that we helped a youth group become a FAMILY!

I should start this remembrance by telling you that while my memory for such things is VERY good, it is entirely possible (in fact, likely!) that the story you are about to read happened over the space of two dinners, not all at once. But it makes a better tale this way, so I'm sticking with it! As with many student ministry functions, the heart and soul of the event was food. And one particular year at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee. one of our families made the food the most memorable thing to ever happen at a TNTTF.  The Esry family was a big part of our ministry. Caitlin and Bethany were part of our youth family, and their parents were very involved as well, with their mom serving as the church's Children's Director for a time. There were also younger brothers who were not of youth group age yet. They had a very unique sense of humor. Adhering to the letter of the "No Turkey" rule, Craig brought SPAM to share with the crowd. But not just any SPAM. He had put several cans together and molded the mystery meat into the shape of- wait for it - a TURKEY! It was at once creative, fascinating and more than a little repulsive, but it was the talk of the meal. For at least a little while. As with any church potluck, the really important part of the meal was the dessert table. As folks grazed through the plethora of options one of the things they came across were what appeared to be truffles, coated in delicious looking chocolate- some dark and some white. They were quickly snatched up by the vultures hovering around the desserts. A few moments later, there were gasps, moans and shouts of disbelief. It seems that the Esry's had struck again! Under the scrumptious looking chocolate outside was not a cake or gooey dessert filling, but a BRUSSEL SPROUT! The shock and surprise on the faces of those biting into them was absolutely priceless. It gave us a huge laugh, a great memory, and yet another reason to be thankful for the family we had become and the sense of community we shared. 

I am blessed to have so many fond memories of so many creative moments in student ministry, and each TNTTF came with its own special memories. As I have written 1000 times before, I believe that the primary purpose of a youth ministry is building relationships that connect us all to Jesus, and TNTTF was another means to that goal. Having a SPAM turkey and brussel sprouts for dessert certainly gave us a very unique connection- and for at least one evening, we ate, worshiped and celebrated as family. And that was something to be thankful for. Be blessed my friends!

Because of Jesus. 

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