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Spencer Thanksgiving service will go on in livestream format

With COVID-19 not just present but becoming more prevalent in the area, members of the Spencer Community Thanksgiving Service Committee were nearing the point of cancelling the 28-year tradition. Then one of them said, wait just a minute, “If ever there was a time to hold this service, it’s now.”

“We said, ‘You’re absolutely right,’” said committee member Joe Burnett. “This has to happen.”

And it will, on the usual night of Thanksgiving Eve. It will be different, though, in a livestream format instead of in-person, but Burnett said that is the best option for 2020, and it has some unexpected advantages. Not only will the tradition continue and the community still be able to come together to give thanks, but the service will be recorded and available online for weeks to come.

As with every other event this year that was likely to bring people together and risk the spread of the coronavirus, Spencer’s Thanksgiving gathering at the LuCille Tack Center for the Arts was on the potential chopping block. A committee comprised of members of the three sponsoring churches — St. John’s Lutheran ELCA, Christ the King Catholic, and Spencer United Methodist — were leery of bringing the usual crowd of 250-300 people under one roof, even for this traditional special event.

“What was this year going to look like? We felt we just couldn’t have the congregation present,” Burnett said.

But it also couldn’t just cancel the event either, especially not after the one committee member said how much it’s needed in 2020.

“That was literally a critical turning point,” Burnett said. “If ever there was a time for everybody to reflect on how fortunate and grateful we should be, it’s now.”

From there, the committee formulated its plan for a livestreamed service. It will be broadcast live on Nov. 25, starting at 7 p.m., but the only people at the Tack Center will be the worship leader, and the choir and praise band. Parts of the hourlong service will be pre-recorded to lessen the gathering, but the usual message of thanks will go out. The committee created a Facebook page — Spencer Community Thanksgiving Service — so users of that medium can simply log in to watch the service. For those who are not on Facebook, they can simply Google search the same title at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve, or anytime that works for them.

“The night of the service or anytime following they can go to that site and click on the service and watch it,” Burnett said.

Members of the three sponsoring churches can also use their church’s web site to view the program.

There will also be an option for those who do not have access to electronics.

“We know that not everyone is equipped with electronic devices that can access the internet,” Burnett said. “With that in mind, we have a way that anyone with a phone can listen to the Community

“If ever there was a time for everybody to reflect on how fortunate and grateful we should be, it’s now.” -- Joe Burnett Thanksgiving Service. For anyone interested, simply contact one of the three sponsoring churches – St John’s ELCA, Spencer United Methodist Church or Christ the King Catholic Church – and staff members of each church will have the necessary information. The ‘phone bridge’ – as it’s called – allows anyone with a phone to call a designated phone number, enter in an access code via the push pad on your phone and that connects that individual to the livestream so the person on the phone can hear the service as it is taking place. So for those who don’t have the internet – or don’t want the internet - we have the phone bridge so you can enjoy the Spencer Community Thanksgiving Service.”

The service will have the usual ingredients — music, words from the three pastors, messages from local children on the things for which they are thankful. It will also feature pre-recorded footage of the traditional human food chain whereby service attendees load donated goods onto a truck for delivery to The King’s Food Pantry. Those collections are still taking place at the three churches, and the food will get to the pantry, along with any cash donations. Bags to put donated food items in are available at the churches and the Spencer village office.

Spencer’s Thanksgiving service started 28 years ago, and at first rotated among the three sponsoring congregations. That worked well, until it didn’t.

“Literally, the congregation outgrew any of the churches,” Burnett said.

It then moved to the Tack Center, and had now been held there for 11 years. That venue can hold the gathering that some years has surpassed 300 people.

“It also worked better in a lot of other ways because the Tack Center was neutral ground,” Burnett said. “In some ways it was less threatening for someone who didn’t attend any church.”

Burnett said this year’s service is another example of how people can find the silver lining of the otherwise dark cloud of 2020, which has included a pandemic and a divisive national election. At first glance, Burnett said it seemed as if COVID might ruin this year’s service, but now it looks to be even better.

“We were looking at COVID-19 as being very detrimental, and the more we studied this, actually, the livestream could be something really great. “This is another instance of something good that came out of COVID-19. Had the virus never happened we would have never explored the other avenues available to us for people to ‘attend’ the community Thanksgiving service. In this case ‘attend’ means listening on a telephone or watching the service via a live stream. Not everything that happened with COVID-19 was bad.”

As one example, Burnett said his son, Ben, who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, can now watch the service.

“For the first time ever, we will be able to share this with our family and friends worldwide,” he said. “This is the beginning of what I think will be an ongoing effort to have this livestreamed.”

Just holding the service, even though it will not be inperson, will be a way for the Spencer community to stay grounded in what has been for many a bad year. Some people were forced to work front-line jobs that put their health and families at risk, while others were told they were “nonessential,” Burnett said. Add in the election fatigue, and a mindset re-set may be just what’s in order.

“People need to set that aside, and just reflect on how fortunate we are in the things we do have,” Burnett said.