Gretchen appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and living room with a large brass bell.
She shook it enthusiastically and the ringing reverberated around the room.
Alarmed by the sudden noise, Daniel jumped up looking for the nearest exit.
Meg put her hands over her ears and glared at Gretchen, while Todd got to his feet and stretched. Seamus’s eyes didn’t leave the football game on the television.
“Dinner is served,” Gretchen announced. “And by the way, since Sally and I did all the work, you guys are cleaning up!” She flounced back into the kitchen.
Sebastian got to his feet and raised his hands, “Come, friends” he proclaimed and walked out of the room as if leading a processional.
Meg and Todd followed him. Seamus reluctantly turned off the television and trailed behind them.
Daniel waited until his heart had gone back to its normal rhythm before joining them.
Like the rest of the house, the dining room was tiny. The table was surrounded by seven mismatched chairs and one stool.
Roger stood at the head of the table. The turkey on the platter before him looked like it had survived a house fire.
The congregation sat at the table, elbows touching. Sebastian stood beside Roger.
“My friends, let us give thanks.”
Everyone bowed their heads dutifully and clasped hands. Gretchen held Daniel’s hand so hard he was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to use a fork after the prayer.
Sebastian threw his head back and addresses the ceiling.
“Dear Lord, thank you for providing us with this wonderful meal on this day of Thanksgiving. As we consume the turkey, gravy, stuffing, rolls, potatoes, cranberry sauce and…” Sebastian glanced down at the table “and some sort of casserole, we are praising You and the bounty You provide.”
“Our ministry may be small, but we are powerful in our love for You and Your son, our Savior Jesus Christ.”
“Amen!” Gretchen gave Daniel’s hand an extra squeeze as she called out.
“Yes, amen indeed Sister Gretchen. And as we enjoy this meal, so lovingly prepared, let us not forgot to ask ourselves ‘what are the poor people eating?’”
Daniel’s head jerked up, sure he had misheard Pastor Sebastian.
“Yes, we ask what are the people who do not accept Your love, the poor at heart, eating this Thanksgiving. For while they may also be eating turkey, gravy, stuffing, rolls, potatoes, cranberry sauce and some sort of casserole, they won’t be enjoying it as much as we, Your true followers, are. And they won’t be eating at all when they reach the depths of hell.”
“Lord our Father, we will end this prayer of thanks by going around the table and sharing with You and our friends what we are most thankful for this fine day. Amen.”
The group murmured their amens and released hands, except for Gretchen who clutched Daniel’s hand even more tightly.
Daniel barely noticed that Gretchen was still attached. His head was spinning at the thought of speaking aloud to the rest of the congregation.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t thankful. He knew he had a lot of blessings.
But speaking out loud in a group had always terrified him. Even though there were only eight people gathered around the table, the idea made him sweat.
Years ago, Daniel had joined a group of horror film aficionados who gathered monthly to talk about movies. He had learned about the organization in an online chat room about the genre and thought he’d give it a try.
At the first meeting, Daniel discovered that not only was he asked to introduce himself to the twenty other men, all in their late teens or early twenties and, it seemed, living in their parent’s basements, but he would also be expected to report out in great detail each month on the movies he had watched since the last gathering.
Daniel had pretended to go to the rest room and had never returned.
Sebastian took his seat and gestured to Roger to begin giving thanks.
“I’m thankful for my turkey fryer.” Roger chuckled at his own wit, while Sally slapped his arm lightly.
“Honestly, Roger. I’m ashamed of you. I’m thankful that you all were able to join us today.” Sally beamed at her fellow congregants.
Todd cleared his throat before speaking. “I, um, I guess I’m most thankful for music. Yeah, music.”
Seamus was next. “Like my son, I’m pretty grateful for music too. But I’m more thankful that the 49ers are winning right now!” Everyone laughed.
Meg’s voice cut though the lingering laughter. “I’m thankful for Pastor Sebastian because if he hadn’t started talking to me in the movie theater that day, I never would have found God and been saved.”
Sebastian nodded knowingly and reached across the table to pat Meg’s hand.
Gretchen stood up to deliver her thanks, but she still clasped Daniel’s hand. “I am grateful for so many things that it’s difficult to pick just one.”
“But if I have to choose, I’d say that I’m most thankful for new people in our congregation so we can continue to spread the Lord’s word.”
Gretchen gave Daniel as significant look and another hand squeeze as she took her seat.
It was his turn to speak and Daniel felt the sweat ripping down his back. “I, uh, I don’t know what to say…”
Sebastian put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Just tell us what you’re thankful for, Daniel. There’s no right or wrong answer.”
Daniel couldn’t think of anything, especially while everyone was looking at him. Suddenly he blurted out the first thing that popped into his head. “Denny’s!”
“Denny’s?” Gretchen released his hand.
“I really like the Moon Over My Hammy,” Daniel explained, sheepishly.
No one spoke and then Pastor Sebastian broke the silence. “Well, I’ll eat to that.”
The group laughed and began filling their plates.
Daniel surreptitiously wiped his forehead with his napkin before helping himself to the mashed potatoes.