“Give thanks all year”: Small congregation makes big impact for Thanksgiving

St Stephen AME

The Rev. Garland Hall, pastor at St. Stephen AME Church in Enid, Okla., visits with Johnny Lawrence during a visit to deliver a Thanksgiving turkey on Monday. (Cass Rains / Enid News & Eagle)

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

That quote from St. Teresa referred to efforts to feed the hungry in Calcutta, India. But, it also could apply to one small congregation’s efforts to feed Enid’s hungry at Thanksgiving.

Most Sundays the Rev. Garland Hall is joined by just three or four faithful worshipers at St. Stephen African Methodist Episcopal Church, 701 E. Park.

Last year the congregation decided to not let numbers stand in the way of helping those in need. They took up a collection, and from among their five members they provided turkeys to five families in need.

Hall told the News & Eagle last November the food drive was the congregants’ way of “trying to live in line with what the Scripture says,” reciting a passage from Acts 2 that recalls the early Christians living communally: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.”

“The Lord blessed us,” Hall said, “and we were able to give some turkeys away.”

Johnny Lawrence, a member at St. Stephen since 1980 and a long-time church elder, was instrumental in organizing that first Thanksgiving food drive.

Lawrence said he was inspired last year by how people, some of whom had little themselves, gathered canned goods, vegetables, boxes of stuffing or “just whatever they can give” to help their neighbors.

“That is a caring church — caring about our neighborhood and the people,” Johnny said. “If there’s any way to help the community, that’s what we do.”

This year, after a bout with cancer that’s kept him from his church of almost four decades, Lawrence found himself on the other side of the Thanksgiving food drive.

Hall and his wife Victoria visited Lawrence on Monday to deliver a turkey and share a familiar hymn and prayers — one of five stops to bring Thanksgiving food to people in need.

It was a small way to give back, Hall said, to a man who’s given his adult life to the church.

“Johnny’s always given,” Hall said. “When no one else was in the church, he was.”

Lawrence said the turkey donation means far more than a Thanksgiving meal.

“They are showing the church hasn’t given up,” he said. “They haven’t given up on me.”

That desire to serve others is the true measure of a church, Lawrence said.

“It doesn’t matter if you grow in size, but if you grow in the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If people see what we’re trying to do, they will see that Spirit.”

Hall said he’s confident St. Stephen will continue to serve, and grow, quoting a Gospel passage from Matthew: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

“We have to hold onto the Spirit, even though we don’t have many resources,” Hall said. “God can do exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond anything we can ask or imagine.”

“He takes our little, and he multiplies it,” Victoria added.

Lawrence’s wife, Tisa Lawrence, said the donated turkey will enable her and her husband to celebrate Thanksgiving. But, more importantly, she said the church’s “spirit of love and giving — it means a lot.”

She hopes others will follow that example of love and giving all year, and make Thanksgiving a “bonus day” of being thankful.

“Thanksgiving, to me, is all year round,” she said. “We should be thankful to each other. That’s what’s important, is that we show each other love, gentleness and kindness.”

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