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OUR FAMILY AT HOMECOMING AND REUNION
Traditional African life is communal based. African Americans have retained the importance of community and family gatherings. Homecomings and family reunions have been long-standing celebrations, and that ritual practice received a huge boost with the publishing of Alex Haley'sRoots, and the subsequent television movie series of the same name. Many African American families have extended families that go far beyond biological ties. Sometimes these extended families include neighbors, friends, and church family members. There are "play" aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews; lots of Big Mamas, cousins, Grannies, Paw Paws, Lil Sises, Sisters, Ba' Brothers, and godparents. In thanksgiving and anticipation, we the members of [name of the group, family, or church family] rejoice in the gift of family, remember our ancestors, and are overjoyed at this [family reunion or homecoming].
Today we honor the great heritage of family and community, the love that we share, the contributions we have made to the world, and the blessedness of life given us by God. By God's grace, we have been blessed with many generations; have celebrated weddings, births, anniversaries, graduations, and other rites of passage. We have stood by one another in difficult times, with deaths, losses, misfortune, and hardships. We cherish the gifts of families, church families, and the different communities that have supported us in life. We give thanks for all of these relationships and desire to be ever so faithful to each family and personal connection we have made along the way. We thank and bless God for the love, care, and support of family. Today we celebrate families; we give thanks for reunions, for times of renewal and strength. May we have many more.
When the psalmist says, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord," we know that it is time to offer praise and thanksgiving for all that God has done; it is time to worship. In joy and delight, we, the pastors, officers, and members of [name of church] and the [name of homecoming or family reunion group], welcome you this day to worship, to be renewed, restored, and reconnected as we honor the [homecoming or family reunion] of [name of church or name of family]. As members of God's family, we come honoring God's loving, merciful relationship with us, and our relationship with each other. In gratitude, we welcome you today, to recall the many experiences you have had together, to honor those who have joined the ancestral chorus, and to bless all those who are present on this side of Jordan. Our home is your home; make yourselves comfortable and please let us know if there is anything we can do to make your visit more joyous.
On behalf of the [church, organization, or family name], we are so honored and blessed by your presence, and pray that you experience the peace and love of Christ Jesus as you worship with us today, and as you go forth in the world. As we gather today, we recall the gatherings of community circles in Africa, the secret gatherings for worship during slavery, and earlier reunions and times when our families have gathered in the past. We invite you to experience this service fully, to take our joy and love with you, and to hold on to your faith, the faith that can sustain you in the days ahead. Know that you are always welcome here in this holy place; you are one of us; be welcomed.
O Divine, Holy God, you who called the world into being, you, who are the Architect of the Universe, the loving designer of all there is: we gather today in exquisite delight and adoration of you, giving all honor and praise to you, as we celebrate this [homecoming or reunion] worship service.
We come today in your honor, giving witness to all that you have done in our lives. You have given us many communities and many families who join today as one worshiping body. We give thanks that you love us so well and that you are so committed to being in relationship with us, that your compassion offers us a model that we can use to understand our relationships with others. We thank you for being in covenant with us; we pray to be able to be in covenant with others in our family.
We give thanks that daily, moment-by-moment, you look beyond our faults, and you never let our faults stop you from tending to our needs. We need your wisdom and strength to keep our families healthy; to help us get through the difficult times, the times that boggle our imagination, that just fail to make sense to us. Just as Jesus taught the disciples to pray, we pray for your rule over the world, we pray for the willingness to name the hurts done to us and for the gift of being able to forgive others so that we ourselves might be forgiven.
Help us have the faith of the mustard seed, that when all else fails, when our best efforts and hard work have not made a difference, our faith in you will sustain us through our journey. Help us place all of our cares and concerns on your altar, trusting in your love and mercy and your gift of healing. Help us avoid the practice of condemnation, understanding that you made us different, like flowers in a garden, like shells on the beach, like stars in the heavens. Help us respect life, the gift of our own lives, and the possibilities for transformation as we learn to walk, talk, plan, and pray together.
LEADER: Blessed, holy quietness, we stand in assurance of God's love for us and the blessing of family and community. In gratitude, we give thanks for life and each other.
PEOPLE:We rejoice and give thanks for our ancestors, for our children, and for members and friends. We appreciate rituals and festivals that celebrate our lives together.
LEADER: We celebrate the families of faithful church communities and celebrate those who have been guides for our communities: Paul Robeson, Daniel Coker, Vashti Murphy McKenzie, James Earl Massey, Manuel Scott, Sr., Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Samuel Dewitt Proctor, Leontine Kelly, and J. Alfred Smith, Sr.
PEOPLE:Many noble persons of God have given their lives and leadership to the up-building of God's kingdom and for justice: Charles H. Mason, Charles P. Jones, William Henry Miles, Ella Mitchell, Joseph A. Johnson, Jr., William Seymour, Peter Gomes, Marian Anderson, William Augustus Jones, Jr., and Shirley Ceasar.
LEADER: As congregations and families, we celebrate the love for each other, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual traits that we share; the gift of friendship and relationship that makes joy and peace possible.
PEOPLE:To God, we give all praise and glory for the marvelous blessings and challenges of family and community. We pray that we may better appreciate each day as if it were our last, each moment as if we would live for a lifetime.
ALL:For the grace of life, for the beauty of family and congregations, for the opportunity to celebrate our relationship with God and ourselves in community, we give thanks.
Vow of Commitment
As we stand before the God of Simeon and Elijah, of Anna and Esther, we give you our deepest thanks and adoration, for you are worthy of praise. With your gift of life, we pledge to love our family members and ourselves. We honor our communities and will do all that we can to strengthen and protect them. We cry out with the voices of our ancestors that say, "Oh, Jesus Fix Me." When we are open to you fixing us, we become transformed and made anew. We are then able to put away destructive practices and embrace life-affirming behaviors that will honor ourbodies, minds, and spirits so generously given to us by you. This day we celebrate ourselves and our communities, for the community has helped to train and mold us.
For communities and families everywhere we give thanks. We pray for the wisdom and divine guidance to help families and communities operate from a place of self-respect and respect for others. We trust that being grounded in your love, we can work together for the good of the whole; that we can learn to listen better, to be more tolerant and patient; to be kind, and to offer hospitality generously. Help us to create such a spiritual environment that many will receive rebirth and renewal, and that we will have a greater appreciation for the gifts of life, health, family, community, and love.
Green and red are the colors for homecoming and family reunions. Green symbolizes life, freshness, love, growth, healing, perspective, peace, visibility, and the divine. Red symbolizes living blood, love, emotion, strife, ardor, warmth, passion, and anger.
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. (Ps. 89:1)
God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my [rain]bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth." (Gen. 9: 12-13)
But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." (Mark 5:19)
Now to [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)
Poem of Reflection
FAMILY RELATIONS: REUNION CELEBRATIONS
Grands, great grands, and children, too
All come around at reunion time
Auntie, Uncle, and cousins twice removed
All come together so we can get in the groove
Of celebrations and remembering
Of laughter and tears
Of sweet potato pie, and a sock-it-to me cake
Iced tea, coffee, and warm handshakes.
Families are kin
Whose love we hold dear
We connect in major ways
At play, and church, around kitchen tables
We share stories and tall tales
We reminisce about what once was
Dream of what may come to be;
Families come in all shapes and sizes
Families are miracles in progress
Covenants with God and community.
Families enjoy reunions
We get to see who we're like
Our walk and talk
The shapes of our hands
Our laughter, our accent
Our big hearts and warm smiles;
Enjoy this reunion
Whether your first, perhaps your last.
Families are vital,
How blessed this
A DAY TO HONOR OUR MOTHERS
Mothers come in many sizes, shapes, personalities, temperaments, and ages. Mothers are parents who may be biological, adoptive, and/or nurturing. Today, we join communities across the world in celebrating the gift of motherhood. In the Bible, God's activity is often that of a mother, reflecting strength, deep caring, nurturing, and tenderness. God holds us like a mother, bringing comfort, love, and a desire to be in healthy, intimate relationship. In honoring mothers today, we honor the mothers of [name of church]: [list the names of mothers of the church].
Hannah, the mother of Samuel, prayed speaking with her heart, as she poured out her soul before the Lord, for the gift of a son, vowing to give him to the Lord for all the days of his life (1 Sam. 1:9-15). Caring mothers daily pray for their children, for the safety and comfort of all children everywhere. Many have borne the tremendous responsibility of being a mother for their families, communities, for the nation. Many women have been mothers to movements and to faith, educational, and literary communities, and we honor their contributions. Notably, Ella Pearson Mitchell advocates for the rights of black women to exercise their preaching gifts; Dorothy Height, founder of the Black Family Celebration, is a prime mover in the National Council of Negro Women. Johnnetta Cole has served as president of black women's colleges, Spelman and Bennett; Toni Morrison, as black female literary artist, has used African American women as symbols in her novels, which help us to examine the effects of racism, classism, sexism, and all those factors which blight a dream of a free and equal society.
Mothers of movements, communities, and families teach us much and share with us their mother wit, or wisdom to deal with everyday decisions. We are so grateful for the patience, love, and understanding that mothers give us; for the creativity they encourage in us; for the times they have stood by us, when all others have given up on us. We rejoice at the women in our lives who we know as godmother, grandmother, mother, sisters, spouse, Mo'Dear, Ma Ma, Mim, and Mee-Ma. We embrace the challenge this day of knowing that mothers are persons with their own needs, and that we are called not to take them for granted. May mothers love themselves enough to know how to say "No," and may we learn to appreciate them as gifts.
Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, we welcome you to this glorious celebration of mothers. We, the members and family of [name of church] greet you with joy and an attitude of praise and thanksgiving. God has blessed us to see another year; many of us have gone through valleys; some of us have been on mountaintops. Some of us have become mothers this year; others have mothers who have gone on to be a part of the celestial chorus. Each of us can name mothers who have been important in our lives. We carry them in our hearts and their guidance and memories are ever present with us.
Today we welcome you with delight and invite you to think of them as we honor mothers today. On behalf of our pastor, officers, and members of [name of church], we open our hearts and our church home to you. We extend to you our hospitality and blessings of appreciation for being with us today, for there are many other places you could be today. We salute you who wear white flowers in memory of mothers who have died. We salute you who wear red flowers in honor of those mothers who are living and serving on this side of Jordan. We invite you to take this welcome and share with others, honoring the precious gift of motherhood.
We extend a welcome to all mothers today, and all of those who will give birth to new ideas, to new movements, to nurturing communities, and the love and care of children. We pray that the spirit you feel here, and the experiences you have here will leave a deep impression of kindness and compassion. You are welcome!
Generous God of all Creation, from the time of ancient Israel, through the middle passage, slavery, reconstruction, the modern Civil Rights movement and on into the twenty-first century, you have been a mother to the motherless, a companion, constant guide, and friend. Within scripture, we see numerous examples of mothers who have nurtured others and brought messages of hope and promise. Tabitha was a disciple who worked on behalf of the poor and was a disciple of many good works. Lois was a faithful grandmother and Eunice a faithful mother to Timothy. Milcah showed deep affection and support; Hannah was a woman of great piety. We are grateful for these mothers of faith and presence, whose witness provides guideposts for gracious behavior.
God of all mothers, we bless you for having given us the special role of mother in the lives of all persons. Help us to honor and support mothers and remember the importance of mothers having room to be themselves, above and beyond the role and duty of being a mother. Help mothers to not feel burdened by their responsibilities and bless them to have wisdom in parenting and mentoring. Bless them with a sense of humor and a great deal of lightheartedness, so that their frustrations will not result in anger, abuse, or destructive behavior toward themselves and others. Bless our church family with the insight to help support mothers by precept and example toward a life of balance.
LEADER: This day we honor the gift and office of motherhood, in its many forms toward the up-building of the rule of God throughout the world.
PEOPLE:May we grasp a vision of motherhood that helps our community flourish, do justice, and love mightily, that we can honor the glory of God in all mothers.
LEADER: We bless and praise you protecting God, who knows us and our mothers in intimate ways, calling us to relationships with mothers of honesty and affirmation.
Excerpted from More African American Special Days by Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan. Copyright © 2005 Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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