Every June in my church, we celebrate “Gratitude Sunday.” I started this tradition in part to intentionally thank all the volunteers who worked so hard during the year, but I also intentionally wanted to highlight gratitude at a time of year other than in the season of Thanksgiving. Nurturing generosity and nurturing gratitude are related and so if we are to develop generous spirits, we need to feed them more than once a year.
This past June in preparation for “Gratitude Sunday,” I invited worshipers to fill out a card that would be read out loud on the day inviting them to be “Grate-full.” I gave them a couple of weeks to reflect on things like “I am grateful for our church leadership because…” or “I am grateful to my spouse because…” or “I am grateful for the earth because…” As I handed out the cards randomly, there were a few people who asked if they could hand theirs back and choose differently. It turns out their cards said things like “I am grateful for tears because…” or “I am grateful for challenges because…” Those moments, which make up every life, are a little harder to be grateful for and yet the truth is, those moments tend to be the most valuable. It was a fascinating experiment and a lovely experience.
When it came time for worship, as the cards were read aloud as the “sermon” that day, it was as if we were transported back in time and listening to the authors of the psalms express their faith, their gratitude, their struggle and the awareness of their strength found in God. There were moments of laughter and words that drew water to our eyes. Whether or not each individual turned in a card to be read, the whole congregation was moved by that grace-filled moment. It was one of the most powerful experiences we had together in worship.
Gratitude is at the heart of generosity, and so the practice of expressing gratitude should be woven into our worship. Brother David Steindl-Rast wrote, “As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it. And the greater my awareness, the greater my need to express it.”
Rev. Stacy Emerson is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, CT and the Stewardship Consultant for ABCUSA. She is also the Coordinator for The Generosity Project which is about helping congregations deepen their understanding of stewardship as a call to generosity as disciples of Jesus; re-framing the stewardship conversation; and cultivating generosity in pastors, lay people, and congregations.