“We’re known for being a nation of knockers...” notes Tasmanian Judy MacKenzie. “(But) one of the things that we hope will come out of this over a period of years is that people will appreciate what a great country we live in and the good things people do for us.”

MacKenzie is one of thousands of people who are taking part in the National Day of Thanksgiving being held across the nation this coming Saturday.

"(It's) a reminder that the exceptional quality of life we have enjoyed is not accidental," says Brian Pickering.

The convenor of National Day of Thanksgiving celebrations in Launceston, she 
says the city will be holding a thankyou breakfast that morning to honor those who serve the community in uniform, such as police, ambulance officers and firemen as well as those serving in the military, or who care for those who can’t care for themselves, such the poor or the marginalised. More than 360 people are expected to attend.

“They just come along, get blessed and hopefully go away feeling blessed and appreciated,” she says.

Later Saturday morning, the community is also, for the first time, holding an “honor parade” of about 300 people through the centre of the Launceston CBD, starting at the Civic Square.

“We’ve hoping the public will come out in force and shout and cheer and let (those marching) know that they’re being appreciated,” MacKenzie says.

This year’s National Day of Thanksgiving is the third that has been held in Australia after the initiative was first held on the weekend of Pentecost Sunday, 2004.

According to the organisers, tens of thousands of Australians took part in activities in more than 600 different communities last year, including an estimated 500 federal and state and local government politicians. 

As many as 80,000 specially printed “Thanksgiving Day” cards were distributed and church groups and individuals performed thousands of “random acts of kindness” in association with the day.

While the day last year highlighted those working in the areas of health and education, this year’s focus - as evidenced by the Launceston celebrations - is on thanking those who serve our nation in uniform and those carers who look after people unable to care for themselves. 

Brian Pickering, national co-ordinator of the day, estimates that as many as 1,000 communities across the nation will be holding events this year.

As well as community breakfasts and other public events, churches are being encouraged to gather together on Saturday night under the theme of “Australia worships” to give thanks to God for “his goodness to us as a nation and as His people”.

The 400th anniversary of the “prophetic declaration” of Australia as the “Great Southland of the Holy Spirit” is expected to be a special focus.

Pickering says the National Day of Thanksgiving provides “real opportunities” for the church to build bridges into the community while providing the community with a “refreshing experience of graciousness between citizens”.

“For both it will be a reminder that the exceptional quality of life we have enjoyed is not accidental,” he says.
 
Ken Graham, senior minister at Tea Tree Gully Community Church in the northern east of Adelaide, is also the leader of ‘Pray Tea Tree Gully’, an umbrella prayer movement for the 40 to 45 churches in the region which is organising events for the National Day of Prayer.

As it did last year, the group is holding a breakfast on this Saturday morning to which churches are inviting people in uniform - such as those who work in the military, police, fire and ambulance services - and carers such as those who care for the disabled, the aged, the dying and the homeless.

“Many of the people that we’ve had at our breakfasts have never in this way been acknowledged and appreciated before and there’s been some quite touching and moving moments as we ask individuals to stand and acknowledge them...and you can see tears running down their cheeks as we acknowledge them...,” says Ken Graham.

“But we haven’t limited it to those two categories,” says Graham. “They’re the pre-eminent categories but we’ve got other people coming from other areas as well. So where-ever a congregation has felt that they wanted to publicly say thankyou to people at this time, they’re inviting those people.”

It’s the third year the breakfast has been held in Tea Tree Gully. The first year, the breakfast attracted around 165 people and last year it attracted 206. 

Graham says that as well as the breakfast, church-goers are taking part in a range of other activities in the area - such as making morning teas at aged care facilities - over the week.

He says the day is a chance for people within the church to say thanks to God and the blessings He has poured out on Australia, “but we want to say it to other people as well”. 

Thanksgiving Day events over the past couple of years have helped to create connections between the community and the church, says Graham.

“Many of the people that we’ve had at our breakfasts have never in this way been acknowledged and appreciated before and there’s been some quite touching and moving moments as we ask individuals to stand and acknowledge them...and you can see tears running down their cheeks as we acknowledge them...”

Speaking from Tasmania, MacKenzie agrees that the day is a great way for the church to reach out to the community.

“It’s a great opportunity because we’re not preaching at them...It’s just the church getting out of its four walls and instead of trying to get people to come into the church, it’s the church getting out into the community.”

In Queensland’s twin towns of Townsville and Thuringowa, such is the strength of the links created between the community and the church that the city councils and churches are jointly organising a civic reception thanking people.

“There’s about 300 guests invited to that,” says Matthew Bolte, pastor of Hope Community Church and the coordinator of the National Day of Thanksgiving efforts in the Townsville area.

”They’ll be given a formal thankyou reception, there’s a formal thankyou cake that the councils have ordered made and they’ve also had some special chocolates made so each individual being thanked will take a selection of chocolates back to their workplace with the National Day of Thanksgiving logo embossed upon the top of the chocolates.”

Bolte says that both of the local councils “are very keen to participate” in the day.

“They’ve put it on their permanent calendar now and they’ve organised a way of jointly funding it and rotating which city physically hosts it...” he says.

"They see themselves, the council, as about building community and they recognise that the churches are committed to building community and so they want to partner with us,” says Pastor Matthew Bolte.

“In fact one of the mayors made the comment that what really excited him was that the churches and the council were headed in the same direction. They see themselves, the council, as about building community and they recognise that the churches are committed to building community and so they want to partner with us.”

Bolte says the 50 or 60 churches in Townsville are also holding a combined worship night on Saturday night and are implementing a “go to the workplace and say thankyou” program.

Under this program, people from the churches are visiting fire and police stations and organisations like Lifeline or St Vincent’s and taking morning teas or cards or ribbons and saying thankyou on behalf of the churches.

“There are about 80 groups we’re trying to cover,” says Bolte.

MacKenzie, meanwhile, says the day has also been a unifying force in the churches in the Launceston area.

“I’m a firm believer that there’s only one church in the city, many congregations...” she says. “It’s not only that we can do more when we’re together but (people) see then there’s only one body of Christ.”

“When something like this is on - something like the National Day of Thanksgiving - you just realise the value of the body of Christ working together.”

www.thanksgiving.org.au

UPDATE - 22nd June, 2006
Organisers report than more than 1,000 communities across Australia took part in the National Day of Thanksgiving with an estimated 250,000 people either participating directly or impacted by the day.

“Churches have discovered the outstanding opportunity the day presents for them to give positive leadership in their community which can open doors into areas of the community they have not previously connected with,” organisers say in a statement.

In Brisbane, hundreds of Christians gave tens of thousands of hours of community service by cleaning the homes of 370 people who can’t do so themselves while in Launceston people turned out to watch an ‘honor parade’ down the main street of the city. In other places across Australia, Christians gathered to hold breakfasts where local identities were honored or held community festivals.

The organisers write that unexpected results were reported in many places. After Christians thanked firefighters in St Ives, Sydney, for example, the firefighters offered to attend church the next morning and, after doing so, invited the church to their Christmas Party. 

“Who knows...where the relationships being built will finish up?” the organisers ask.