Franklin's thankful gathering

November 30, 2021
Dr. Larry Edwards Dr. Larry Edwards

Franklin Countians from various churches gathered as one body to worship during the annual “Community Thanksgiving Service” held Tuesday, Nov. 23 at Meadville United Methodist Church.

The hour-long gathering featured traditional congregational singing led by Darby Scott of Meadville Baptist Church and special musical performances by Susie Kimbrough and Anna Grace Shideler.

Meadville United Methodist Church’s Grady Fleming opened the celebration with prayer and a welcome to all in attendance.

“We are so glad Meadville Baptist and Praise Cathedral are joining us for a community service because we have so much to be thankful for,” Fleming said.

“We’ve also had some hard times during the past year and a half and have all lost someone to COVID-19 — including our pastor (the Rev. Rex Wilburn).”

Wilburn died Thursday, Aug. 26 as a result of the illness. Fleming said the pastor was greatly missed in the church and community as he was active in both.

“As we sit here tonight, be thinking of the things you are thankful for and repeat them to yourselves this week and every day in the future,” Fleming added.

The Rev. Larry Edwards served as the keynote speaker for this year’s worship service.

“I am humbled, I am honored and I am thankful to be with you,” Edwards said in opening his remarks. “It is hard to believe the Thanksgiving season is upon us, and, before we know it, this year’s going to be gone and 2022 — if the Lord tarries — is going to come.”

Before starting his message, the pastor said he and others in the community share in the loss of people to COVID-19 — particularly noting the loss of Wilburn, and asked for those in the audience to pray for all families impacted by the illness.

Edwards said the concept of thanksgiving should not just be a certain holiday or a particular season — one time or one day of the calendar year.

“For the Christian, thanksgiving is something you and I should do every day,” he continued, “and we have a lot to be thankful for.”

Edwards initially read from Hebrews 10:25, which states: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

He also read from Psalm 84:10: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

The pastor’s holiday message focused on the church — and who or what the church is in light of the current situation of the world.

“We look at this building as the church and look at all of us sitting out here as the body of Christ and the church,” Edwards noted.

“Church is an anchor to our community and to our lives. All across this nation, there are churches in every community — different shapes, sizes and denominations — but we say thank you, Lord, because there is a church.”

Edwards said church buildings, in and of themselves, are part of the spiritual landscape of the locations people call home.

“There is just something about walking through those doors and entering the house of God,” he added. “We are so glad we are still able to do that, but what if you suddenly woke up and you learned there was no church ... what would you do?”

He said it hard to imagine not having church or having a place where the presences of God can be felt and someone can kneel at an altar to pray to seek God’s face and counsel.

“In this day and time, we need to fight with everything within us to keep the church doors open and assemble together to worship God,” Edwards went on to say.

He noted the last 18 months — impacted by the coronavirus pandemic on our lives — have given many a chance to ponder this scenario as churches were forced to close because of concerns related to the illness.

During this time, Edwards said many congregations — including his own at Praise Cathedral Church of God in Meadville — adapted by using technology to “livestream” services through social media platforms.

“It stirs up my righteous indignation that during the pandemic there were still people who went to Walmart, liquor stores and other places that were deemed ‘essential,’ but the church was not ‘essential’ for you and I to come to,” he said.

“If there is any place, whether there is a crisis or not, the church needs to be deemed essential to come together to worship and praise God. We need interaction and are not wired to be alone. For me, I have to see and interact with somebody ... to see somebody’s face and hear a voice because it helps.”

To this end, Edwards said Christians need and desire the opportunity to worship and pray together as believers.

“You don’t know what the person sitting next to you might be going through or might be facing,” he added. “We come to church with a smile on our faces, but on the inside there could be a warfare or struggle going on we are not aware of ... and we need to pray and seek God for our brothers and sisters.

“Worshipping together has been a fabric of our lives for as long as we can remember, and we need the church, the building and each other.”

Edwards noted Romans 12:5 points out believers are one body in Christ, and individual members of one another.

He also read from Ezra 3:11, which states: “And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”
Edwards gave an analogy of sitting at home and watching a football game in comfort by one’s self or being in a stadium packed with thousands of fans watching the same contest.

“There is an excitement in the atmosphere in the stadium where everybody is cheering on the team and wanting them to win,” he said. “Church is kind of like that ... we can livestream it and watch from our living rooms, but it helps so much more for us to come together and lift up our voices and our hearts unto the Lord and worship God ... we need that.”

The pastor went on to suggest the need for the church has never been greater — to study and learn about God’s Word.

“There are people that are being deceived and there are lying spirits working in the world ... we better know what God’s Word says,” Edwards continued. “We need to be in the church to support, encourage and pray for one another.”

Despite the current social climate, Edwards challenged believers to not give up and know God is coming back to get His church.

“The enemy seeks to isolate and separate us and get us to a place where we are alone and have no help,” he said. “When the pandemic started, I thought it would really test our mettle, show our maturity and test us to see just how deep our relationship was with God.”

Edwards said what America needs more than anything else right now is true revival and not just going through the motions in having church, singing a few songs, hearing a message and walking out the door never having changed.

“If we can’t get excited about Jesus, then who or what in the world are we going to get excited about?” he asked. “Thank God for the church ... there are times we need a human voice and for somebody to put their arm around us to tell us it is going to be alright.

“We need somebody to listen to things going on in our lives or our problems, and we need them to pray with us to help us make it through.

“A lot of times, God does not deliver us from things, but He helps us to walk through them. We need other people — the body of Christ — to help us do just that.”

In closing, Edwards said Christians not only need a place to assemble, but also to lift one another up.

“We do not need to act like the world,” he continued, “but we need to come together in love and unity and reach souls for Jesus Christ ... this is the message and the mission of the church.

“We not only need to give thanks for the church building and the body of Christ, but also we need to thank God for His son, Jesus Christ, who shed His life for the forgiveness of our sins. One day soon, He is going to come back and receive us unto Himself.”

Following the conclusion of the service, those in attendance enjoyed refreshments and a time of fellowship.