Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2012, 9:00 am

Churches cook up plenty of ways to give thanks, but could schedule become too stuffed

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Welvaert
Karen and Bob Reed, Coal Valley, and Rylee Warpehoski, Moline, dress like Pilgrims on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, at the First Congregational Church in Moline. The church is preparing for its annual Thanksgiving Day breakfast and service.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Karen and Bob Reed, Coal Valley, and Rylee Warpehoski, Moline, dress like Pilgrims on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, at the First Congregational Church in Moline. The church is preparing for its annual Thanksgiving Day breakfast and service.
Photo: Submitted
The Rev. Christos Margellos, of St. George Greek Orthodox, and the Rev. Janet L. Waychoff, of First Baptist Church, both of Rock Island, prepare for an annual ‘Neighborhood Thanksgiving Ecumenical Service’ involving six Rock Island congregations of various denominations and faiths, to be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, at First Baptist,, 3020 30th St. Rev. Margellos will deliver the day's sermon. Rev. Waychoff's church is this year's host.
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The Revs. Glenn Harris, John Peterson, Don Robinson, Ruth Petersen, Jon Toler, Randy Rutledge and Wayne Melaas-Swanson, members of the Upper Rock Island County Ministerial Association, worked together to plan a community Thanksgiving service to be at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, at Countryside Christian Church, in Port Byron.
Local churches keep finding more ways to give thanks during Thanksgiving.

Some church leaders say there never can be too many opportunities, while others wonder if it could, some day, dilute attendance at individual events.

''We haven't gotten to that point yet, but eventually it may get to become too much,'' said the Rev. Christos Margellos, of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Rock Island. ''What would happen if there were too many to get to?''

Rev. Margellos will present a sermon at an annual Neighborhood Thanksgiving Ecumenical Service involving six Rock Island congregations of various denominations and faiths at 7 p.m. Tuesday, at First Baptist Church, 3020 30th St.

Host pastor the Rev. Janet L. Waychoff likes the ecumenical format of the service because ''it draws people of different faiths together.'' She said it's exciting to see so many churches blend various styles of worship and music to make the service happen.

St. George and First Baptist will join forces with St. James Lutheran, St. Pius X Catholic, Second Baptist and Congregation Beth Israel at the Tri-City Jewish Center, all of Rock Island. The neighborhood service dates back to the mid-1970s, so it has become a holiday tradition.

For several years, First Lutheran in Rock Island has organized another annual community thanksgiving service involving churches from the city's west end. That service will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, at House of Fire Ministries, at 2365 11th St., Rock Island.

An Upper Rock Island County Ministerial Association also will continue itscommunity Thanksgiving service that dates back to 1992, according to records cited by the Rev. Randy Rutledge. This year's service will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, atCountryside Christian Church,3817 230th St., North, in Port Byron.Choir rehearsal will be at 6 p.m. A free-will offering will support the food pantry and the emergency fund.

First Baptist of Colona, 305 1st St., will hold its long-practiced annual free Thanksgiving dinner for seniors, followed by an 11 a.m. worship service today.

Another long-standing Thanksgiving tradition will be honored at First Congregational Church, 2201 7th Ave., when some members will don pilgrim and Native American costumes and re-enact the ''First Thanksgiving'' story, as they have for more than 30 years.

''Congregationalists are well aware of how our heritage goes back to our pilgrim founders, and we feel a special responsibility to continue to tell that story,'' the church's interim senior pastor, the Rev. Michael Swartz, said.

It begins with a breakfast from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m., followed by the Thanksgiving Day service at 10, then prayers, Scriptures and worship tools similar to ones used by the pilgrims.

Tools include ancient long-handled offering boxes and an hourglass, which, once empty, marks the end of the sermon, Rev. Swartz said.

Other features are a drummer standing on the church's front steps welcoming people into the sanctuary. Men, wearingbrown knickers and shirt jackets with white collars and cuffs, and tall pilgrim hats, will enter the church and sit on one side of the church, while women, wearing long, black dresses with white aprons, white collars and cuffs and bonnets, and children sit on the other side of the church.

Members in American Indian garb enter next. All the clothing washandmade by church members.

After the service, each person gets five kernels of corn as a reminder of stern days pilgrims faced during their first winter when food was so scarce that five grains of corn had to be rationed to each individual.

Bethel Wesley Church, 1201 13th St., Moline, may use cups of candy corn as it starts what's hoped to become a new tradition -- a bilingual worship service and dinner.

''Many churches have a worship service and a meal, but we're adding entertainment,'' said church associate pastor the Rev. Sonia Alvarado. After-dinner entertainment will be provided by the Hispanic Folklore Dancers.

Worship will begin at 10 a.m., followed by dinner and dance performances.

An international flair also will play a major part in Thanksgiving dinner plans at Rock Island's Broadway Church, 710 23rd St.

The church will provide meat, potatoes and drinks, but other potluck dishes people bring have become much more varied, church member Brian McMaster said.

''In the last four years or so, we have seen quite a change,'' he said. ''Since we're serving more and more refugees and immigrants, we've gone from seeing the traditional green-bean casseroles to much more sophisticated oriental cooking and different dishes.''

Prayers and food now come in Nepali, Burmese, Spanish, Mexican and Swahili ''flavors,'' he said.

Broadway still will get a couple of big turkeys and have some turkey roasts on hand if more needs to be cooked up fast, Mr. McMaster said.

There's no need for reservations, church communications coordinator Karen Fialek said.''God has always provided enough food. And nobody has had to cook up the whole meal or do all the cleanup themselves.''

''The real emphasis is on providing a place for people to come who don't have a place to go on Thanksgiving,'' Mr. McMaster said.

The Word Church, 1925 5th Ave., Rock Island, shares the same mission, church member Claudine Anders said.

The church's first Community Thanksgiving Meal will be from 1 to 5 p.m. today.

''Our hope is to feed as many people as we can, with a focus being on the homeless and those living in local shelters,'' Ms. Anders said. "We'll have an option of eating in or carrying out, and will even offer a 'meals-on-wheels-like' option for those who can't get out.''

Mrs. Anders said she doesn't think there can ever be enough churches or programs providing food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes for the naked, care for the sick or visits to imprisoned people, as referred to in Matthew 25: 35-40.

''And imagine all of the people who can feast on the Lord's food and His word if all churches take part in such programs,'' she said.

''No, I don't think there can ever be too many either,'' Ms. Fialek said. ''We don't look at this as some kind of competition. We look at it as a big family thing for people who don't have family locally or who just want a place to celebrate Thanksgiving.''

Could attendance become too diluted?'' Rev. Rutledge said. ''Low attendance does impact the enjoyment of a worship service, but when you consider it is about God and not ourselves, any worship service, no matter how small, is meaningful.''