Around the Island

Giving thanks and sending out lifelines: Faith leaders on the meaning of Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, faith leaders are reminding their congregations to be thankful, but are going beyond the obvious and asking for a commitment to their community.

Father Charles McCarron of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Rev. Stephen Adkison of the Presbyterian Church, Father Peter DeSanctis of Our Lady of the Isle, and Rabbi Berel Lerman of the Center For Jewish Life-Chabad in Sag Harbor, all noted that Thanksgiving is a special time to pause, reflect and look for guidance for the future.

Rev. Adkison said he had reminded his parishioners of a passage from the New Testament of Jesus healing 10 men of leprosy, but only one came back to thank him for restoring the gift of health. One lesson from the parable is that “the man was healed twice by voicing his thanks,” Rev. Adkison said.

He urged members of his congregation “to be the one. Be the one who speaks about gratitude and healing.”

We all take too much for granted, he said, including himself. “I live in a beautiful, peaceful place, and have my health, my wife, my home,” he added. “But we have to be aware of people who are alone, and the importance of hospitality.”

The Presbyterian Church building houses the Shelter Island Food Pantry and the Senior Nutrition Program, lifelines for those in need or those suffering from food insecurity. It’s two ways the church is helping the community at large, Rev. Adkison said, and volunteers were also scheduled to help out Thanksgiving Day at the Community Meal at the Center Firehouse.

“I tell people that the holiday should also be called ‘Thanks-Living,” Rev. Adkison said. “That every day we should be living a thankful life.”

Facing a new day of struggles

Rabbi Lerman noted that in the Jewish tradition there’s a custom to recite a prayer immediately upon waking in the morning. The words are accompanied by a profound meditation, the rabbi said. “It speaks to the core of thankfulness and has great relevance to the time that we are in,” he added. “The prayer is known as Modeh Ani, and reads ‘I am thankful to you, living and eternal King, for you have restored my soul within me; your faithfulness is great.”

He spoke about how life at times can be “daunting for a person to wake up in the morning and face a new day of struggles. However, being aware of the monumental event of having one’s soul re-entrusted every morning by a higher power to overcome challenges and live up to a unique purpose, can be greatly reassuring and empowering.”

He tells his congregation, “This Thanksgiving, as the world still suffers from a global pandemic, let us collectively reflect on that which we can be thankful for, starting with the most basic and powerful recognition of being alive, and the most empowering phenomenon of one’s soul being restored every morning to overcome challenges and impact the world for the better.”

‘Someone is suffering’

Father DeSanctis said he’s asking his parishioners to celebrate “the gift of life, which gives us the gift of faith. During this time of the virus and cultural strife, we have to look for the good in each other. And the good within ourselves. We have to realize that someone is suffering as much as I am.”

He remembered when someone asked his father what his favorite holiday was, and Pete DeSanctis immediately said, “Thanksgiving.” When someone commented that his son was a priest, so it might have been more appropriate to have answered Christmas or Easter, “He said no,” Father DeSanctis said. “Thanksgiving is for everyone.”

Recognizing the humanity in others means being charitable, and the parish’s Outreach Apostolate helps everyone “and especially those in need this time of year,” Father DeSanctis said.

On Thursday, there will be a special Mass of thanksgiving at 9 a.m. to benefit the Island’s Food Pantry.

The gift of technology

During a time when the benefits and ills of technology are debated, Father McCarron of St. Mary’s said unequivocally that it is something to be thankful for. “It kept us together,” the pastor said, speaking of how Zoom allowed members of the congregation to participate in services during the worst weeks of the pandemic. And although there’s nothing like in-person gatherings at the church, he believes Zoom will always be part of his congregation’s outreach. He mentioned the number of parishioners “who physically can’t attend services, and also snow birds who can’t be with us now.”

Outreach by the parish means that all proceeds from events, such as the Election Day Eve Ham Dinner, and the St. Nicholas Day Fair, “are given away,” Father McCarron said.

There is also the Rector’s Discretionary Fund, which helps residents in need, with donations for everything from rent and groceries to prescriptions and other needs. “We donate up to $9,000 a year,” he said.

The main source of income into the Fund, Father McCarron said, is an endowment from Alice Fiske, the last person to occupy Sylvester Manor as her full-time residence. The widow of the 13th heir of Sylvester Manor, Ms. Fiske not only contributed to St. Mary’s, but also the Shelter Island Historical Society, the Shelter Island Library, the Educational Foundation and the Garden Club of Shelter Island.

Thanksgiving is at the heart of the Episcopal tradition, Father McCarron said, and every Sunday is a thanksgiving for life, “to share the gifts we’ve been given. We should be thankful for our time, talent and treasure, and know that everything is a gift.”