Thanksgiving is one of the best days in the Norfolk Island Calender. It comes at a beautiful time of year in the last days of Spring. After 120 years it has never become commercialized.It is a great family day, and Norfolk parents and grandparents are keen to instilling this special Norfolk Island tradition in the young generation.
It is said that the first Thanksgiving Service took place in All Saints Church at Kingston, although some believe it may well have started in the Methodist (Uniting) Church.
One thing is sure, the custom was borrowed from the American whalers and their wives, who were frequent visitors to the island at the time. Because it occurred in the late Spring rather than late Autumn as in the U.S., the Norfolk took on the nature of a Harvest Festival, because the corn is ripe and ready and vegetables and fruits are at their peak before the dry periods and humidity of the summer months.
While Thanksgiving Day is a relaxed day for most of us, there is a group of modest but faithful group of people for whom it is a culmination of weeks of hard work. They will have planted the corn and other crops so they will be have reached perfection just in time for Thanksgiving. They do not look for acknowledgment, but we are all grateful to see those green corn stalks decorating the church, adding to the atmosphere. The church this year was absolutely filled with reminders of God's rich provision, with an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables - potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, beetroot, oranges, passion fruit, and, of course, the plump corncobs!
The service always follows a traditional pattern, and everyone enjoys singing the familiar hymns about the Harvest and thankfulness. We begin with the Doxology, sung rousingly, while the clergy process into the church. This year we have had a special visitor, Bishop Michael Stead, and his wife Felicity.
We had a number of delightful surprises during the service. The children were invited to the front, and Youthworker Jonno introduced us to our newest member, a froglike creature called Petal, who was learning a lesson about learning to trust God to provide for her needs. We understand Petal will soon be joined by a friend Basil.
Then four local ladies from the Quintal family - Gaye, Joy, Rosalie and Chelsea, came forward and gave us a really lovely rendition of "Oakleigh" written by our very own Gustav Quintal. Well done girls, this was a real highlight.
During the prayers, Albert Buffett delivered The Lords Prayer with a difference, speaking in Norfolk! We hope we can use that on other occasions, it was so special. Then Annette Stolz prayed a special prayer of thanks for our heritage, including the contribution of her own great-grandfather, Isaac Robinson, in helping establish the Thanksgiving tradition on Norfolk Island. The scripture reading was carried out by the visiting American Charge d'Affaires
The message was preached by Bishop Stead. We were reminded of the need to acknowledge the source of the good things we enjoy, and not to take them for granted. The Bishop said that we need to realize that God's gifts and generosity are not restricted to providing for our physical and material needs.
We should mention that the music was provided by a great team . We had Phil McDowell and Peter Randall on the organ, with the Nobbs brothers and Don's Uke band playing along with them. We all felt keenly the fact that Ken was not there this year, but his place was taken -with great skill and enthusiasm- by Ken's great nephew Arki.
At the conclusion of the service, the abundant produce was carried to the table outside, where both locals and visitors happily queued to make purchases.
We know that the other churches also had beautiful Thanksgiving celebrations, and that several people made the effort to attend more than one service. Many folk had family get together soon and picnics at lunchtime. The Church of England had a great potluck lunch out at the Parish Centre, where we enjoyed a real feast and good company.
All the forecasts had threatened rain for the day, but it turned out to be mild and sunny. Here on Norfolk Island we have so much to be thankful for!