As Covid fears fade, Arkansas Thanksgiving traditions resume


A year after covid-19 largely derailed the holiday’s public celebrations, many places of worship are reverting to their old Thanksgiving traditions.

At Levy Baptist Church in North Little Rock, worshipers will gather in the shrine on Tuesday evening to worship, then head to the community hall for dinner.

Families whose names end in A to G will bring a salad; those whose names end in H to N are asked to bring a dessert. Everyone is supposed to bring vegetables or a side dish.

The deacons of the church will provide the turkey breasts.

The turnout is guessable, said Pastor Steven Tiner.

“In the last few years we would have had around 120 of them, but we just don’t know with the covid what the comfort level will be,” he said.

After canceling the event in 2020, many members have indicated that they are ready to meet again.

At Levy Baptist, people are grateful for God’s generous blessings, but they also appreciate Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

“Our congregation is so heavily vaccinated. It makes us a little more comfortable,” Tiner said. “I got the encore and most of them too.”

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Altus, the annual Thanksgiving dinner has been canceled for the second year in a row.

Before covid, it attracted 700 to 800 people, maybe more, according to longtime ward member Vickie Ross.

“It’s a pretty crowded situation,” she said. “Our kitchen is so small. For the large crowd we have, we just didn’t think it would be safe for everyone,” she said.

“They are planning, unless something drastic happens, to have it next year,” she added.

In Little Rock, the annual interfaith Thanksgiving dinner has been canceled for the second year in a row, due to lingering concerns over covid-19, organizers said.

Other Arkansas churches have decided to move forward, including the Evangelical Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rogers, which will be hosting a Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and the Bella Vista Lutheran Church, who will meet for worship at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

In Walnut Ridge, 130 miles northeast of Little Rock, the Lawrence County Ministerial Association hosted a community-wide thanksgiving service, the first since 2019. The First Assembly of God at 1800 W Main St., will host the event at 6 pm Sunday. ; Donnie Miller, pastor of Lake Charles Full Gospel Church in Black Rock, will deliver the sermon.

Dennis Calaway, who leads two United Methodist churches in the area and leads the ministerial alliance, expects attendance to be lower than in previous years.

“Before the covid, we would probably have 100 to 150 in Walnut Ridge,” he said.

Post-covid, “I’ll be excited if we see 75 to 100,” he said.

Twenty months after Covid closed much of Arkansas, Calaway is happy to see things start to return to normal.

And he is also grateful.

“I am grateful to be in good health. I am grateful that this pandemic seems to be easing, as well as for all my family and friends and all the blessings that God has bestowed on us,” he said.

In Bella Vista, the First United Methodist Church will not be hosting a special Thanksgiving service, but will be offering turkey dinners Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Preparations are already underway, church administrator Amy Gilmore said earlier this week.

“The person who cooks has already started shopping,” she said.

Those requiring meals should register in advance at tinyurl.com/x4nv5d76.

There will be enough food to serve 150 people.

Due to covid-19 concerns, this will not be a sit-down dinner. People will receive their meals in take-out boxes, which will be distributed outside the church.

“The pastors are there to distribute it and they offer prayers if you wish,” she said.

Members of Community Park Church in Bryant serve Thanksgiving dinner from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

When they did it last year it was just take out.

“We didn’t have dinner because of the covid. We wanted to keep everyone safe,” said co-pastor Diana Graves.

“We fed 500 people last year.… We are really preparing more for this year,” she said.

This time visitors can walk through or dine inside the church at 4630 S. Shobe Road.

Becca Martin-Brown of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed to this report.


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