When I was growing up, we had a small book rack that at times sat near the bottom of the staircase and at other times in our den. The top shelf contained a complete set of the 1972 World Book Encyclopedia as well as several of the yearly updates. We also had the two volume edition of the World Book Dictionary. The lower rack contained a set of the Childcraft encyclopedia. I can still remember the night the World Book salesman came to our house intent on selling it to my parents.
Like some of you, these volumes became a go-to source for writing school papers. It was also quite common for me to spend time just reading articles from one volume or another of these sets. The Childcraft volumes were an endless source of fun activities, songs and poems. I learned some wonderful classics such as "I Never Saw a Purple Cow," which I am reminded of by an ad running on TV. Every fall as the weather turns crisp, I recite parts of James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, "When the Frost is on the Punkin." Of course I recite the Childcraft adaptation of the poem, since it is easier to say, “And you hear the cluck and gobble of the strutting turkey-cock,” than the original, “the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock.”
Another one I remember this time of year is the song "Over the River and Through the Woods." We would often sing this in the car as we headed out to Grandma’s place for Thanksgiving dinner. I suspect my mom would start this one to stop an argument or complaints coming from the back seats of the car. You can imagine with six kids and food and oftentimes suitcases and winter clothes packed into a station wagon there were more than a few disagreements on these trips.
I remember at holiday gatherings sometimes listening to my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents reminiscing about days gone past. Usually I preferred to go outside and play with my cousins. Now I have to admit I find myself wishing I had listened a little bit more. I am wistful for those times together, especially in light of the disrupted patterns we are experiencing this year.
A helpful way of dealing with the disruptions is to focus more on what is going right than on what isn’t happening. We can acknowledge the bad things in life, expressing our grief, sadness and even anger at what we dislike about the current situation, but we must be careful about sulking on our "pity pots." In Philippians 4:8 the Apostle Paul writes, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
As our family and social patterns have been disrupted, so too have our religious practices and traditions. This year has been a challenge in dealing with those disruptions. As part of the Worthington Area Christian Ministers Association, we have had many conversations about how to adapt our traditions in a manner that is safe and beneficial for members in our congregations and community. While each of our congregations has unique ministries and missions, we all serve one God and we seek to support one another in that work.
This connection with other pastors is one of the things I am thankful for this year. I'm also grateful for the members of Westminster Presbyterian, the congregation I serve. I rejoice at the love of my wife and the joy of having my son stay with us this past year. I am grateful for the country we live in and the people here in Worthington. As I think on these, I find myself repeating once again the closing words from "When the Frost is on the Punkin":
Then your apples all is gathered and the ones a fellow keeps
Is poured round about the cellar floor in red and yellow heaps;
And your cider-making’s over, and your womenfolks is through
With their mince and apple butter, and their souse and sausage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it — but if such a thing could be
As the angels wanting boarding and they’d call around on me —
I’d want to accommodate them — all the whole enduring flock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
Galen Smith is pastor at Worthington's Westminster Presbyterian Church.