The Christian Church has split over every imaginable issue, from how to read the Bible to whether to ordain women, to what kind of music to play in worship. (Two denominations, the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ, actually split in the mid-1800s over whether to use organ music in church, among other disagreements.)
But each year at this time, Christians of various stripes get together on Thanksgiving Eve for joint prayer services. Either the notion of “thanksgiving” is the lowest-common denominator upon which churches can agree, or it’s a higher calling that encourages their coming together.
“It’s the one time a year when any of the little differences we have are just not as important as the coming together as God’s family,” said the Rev. Jerome Keiser, whose Roman Catholic parish in Lake St. Croix Beach is one of five congregations who worship together each year on Thanksgiving Eve.
“We usually get over 300 people, because it just makes sense to give thanks together,” Keiser said. “That’s the whole sense of it. People are always of good cheer and in a good mood. It’s a very enjoyable celebration.”
The St. Croix Valley ecumenical service rotates among participating Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United Methodist and Baptist churches. This year’s will be at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi at 7 p.m. today.
The cause of “ecumenism” was a 20th-century rally cry of progressive Christians who worked to unite long-divided denominations. No one thinks a joint Thanksgiving service is a move in that direction.
“There isn’t as strong a movement for ecumenism as there was in the past,” Keiser said. “But we all need to give thanks. Giving thanks to God, from whom all things come, is the fundamental act of worship.”
Thanksgiving also resonates across denominations because it’s a holiday as American as pumpkin pie and football.
“It’s really about all of us getting together and thanking God for our nation,” said Helen Welter, director of sacraments and liturgy at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in White Bear Lake. “It’s based on the Scripture and songs. Those are pretty universal.”
St. Mary’s will be host to an interfaith service at 7 p.m. today. Participants include Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ and two other Roman Catholic parishes.
That’s a broad group that wouldn’t agree on the meaning of Holy Communion or the meaning of Jesus. But at Thanksgiving, at least, they can get together to pray.
They also get to visit one another’s churches. Most Christians only do that at weddings and funerals.
“And Protestants always sing better than Catholics,” said Keiser, the affable priest. “We all have different gifts, you know? Those Lutherans, they really wail on it.”