Are We There Yet?

An Intergenerational Thanksgiving Service
by The Reverend Greg Ward

Adapted from the story,

“How Many Days To America?”

by Eve Bunting and Beth Peck

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This is a story which depicts the sacrifice and hardship that goes into holding fast to our beliefs, taking responsibility for those in our care and building better lives.   It also helps point out the people and events in our history that have made such sacrifices and to whom we owe our thanks.


The seating is circular.   The chalice is in the middle of the opening.   There is a floor mic in a small clearing with a chair next to it.


There is a fold up table with a tablecloth, a cardboard boat to the side, four loaves of bread and four chalices (goblets) with a pitcher of juice are on the counter. There are sacks with clothing and jewelry and there is bread and fruit in a sack on the counter.


Storyteller                        Karen LoBracco
Service Leader              Greg Ward
Father                              Jim Ritter
Mother                              Linda Ritter
Angel                               Greg Ward
Jessie                             Jessie Ritter
Pirate                              Taylor Perkins
Soldier                            Taylor Perkins
Thanksgiving family      Bill and Diantha Horton



  STORY PART I (Opening)

(Stage is open except for a small table in the front.   The chalice is close to Karen with the microphone and chair.   All other props are on the counter.)


Life was nice on the small island where Angel and his sister Jessica lived. They enjoyed growing up close to the beach surrounded by their whole family. With their mother and father they lived only steps away from their Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins.   Their father worked in the fields gathering food.   Others in the family worked at the beach and fished with nets.   On Saturdays they all went to the market.   But everything they did, they did together.   They cooked together, sang together, cleaned together, played together.   They even helped each other build each other’s houses together.  

  Outside the house there was a big field where the children played.   A grove of coconut trees stood by the window and there was a hammock stretched across two of them.   A tree house was built where you could sit and watch the waves come in off the beach.   In the afternoon all the workers came to the house and Angel’s father and uncle would play chess on a wooden crate by the doorway.   In the evening, after supper, everyone would play guitar and sing and the grandparents would tell stories about the many generations of life on the island.   It seemed like it had always been this way.   It was all Angel could imagine.   And he thought it would stay exactly the same until he was old and told stories to his children.   

But that was not to be.   One day, early in November, everything changed.   That was the day the soldiers came to the village.  

  At first the soldiers stayed in the harbor by the fishing boats.   Then there were only a few of them.   As the days passed the number of soldiers increased and they began to appear in town.   Shortly after that many shops began to close.   Several mornings in a row Angel and Jessie awoke to find out that another one of their friends had left home during the night.   One day they arrived at school and found that it had been closed.   They ran home to tell their parents.   But heard their mother’s voice calling them even before they arrived at their house.   “Go into the house with your sister,” their mother said.  

(Angel and Jessie hide behind the table)

It was then they realized that their village - indeed, their whole world - was a very different place then they’d known.   They had never had to hide before and they began to feel afraid.   And they wondered if what their parents had been whispering to one another in the evenings was true: that THEIR family would soon have to leave too.   If it was so, Angel wondered, where would they go?

We are each part of a journey
A journey to find or build a home
Our journeys have begun long before we were born
and they will not end till long after we’re gone.
Today we light this chalice
That we may see from where we have come
To see we are called to go
and to welcome and thank those around us who join us on the way.

Good Morning!!! Welcome!   My name is Greg Ward and I am the minister of this growing, journeying community.   Indeed, many of us have found a home here only after a long search for a place that is safe, caring and welcoming of our individual needs and gifts.   Yet, we always thankful for the opportunity to share our gifts of community with others.   Is there anyone here who has brought friends or family to this community this morning?  Is there anyone who has found their way here who would like to introduce themselves so that we all may worship as friends?  

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, along whatever path you are following, we are honored that you have joined us this morning.

Here at Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North (which we affectionately call UUMAN) we are a collective of many different histories, beliefs and paths.   Please read the announcements in our order of worship, UUMAN TIMES - our newsletter, and the many brochures that speak about our interests and activities.   We encourage you to ask about and join any of the events or activities that are of interest to you.   Please feel free to join us after the service this morning which will commence at Discovery Hall where coffee and donuts will be served.   Take a tour of our new building, talk with our knowledgeable church members.   We are interested in meeting you and making you feel at home.

There are a few announcements:

Let us take a moment now to turn to the people beside you and offer one another the hand of Fellowship.


Soon after the soldiers came to Angel’s village everything changed.   Instead of playing outside in the fields, Mother said he and his sister had to stay inside.   No one played music in the evenings.   There were no games after dinner.   Mostly everyone sat very still, talked softly and listened carefully.    This is what they were doing on the night the soldiers came to the house.

  When Angel’s Father saw them coming, he whispered something to their Mother.   She ran over to her children, took them by the hand and told them to hide under the bed.  

(Angel and Jessie hide underneath the table)

Angel and Jessie did as their mother said, but let the covers hang over their heads so they could peek through the open space at the bottom.   They saw their mother’s black slippers and the great, big, muddy feet of the soldiers as they walked in and out of the house.   They were talking very loudly.   They could see their father making sure that he was always able to stand between the soldiers and their mother.

  Finally, when soldiers had left, Angel’s father brought their mother into the bedroom and called the children to come up from underneath the bed.   “We must leave right now!” their father said.

“Why?” Angel asked.  

“Because we do not think the way they think, my son.   I cannot explain so that you would understand.   All I can tell you is that we must leave and leave in a hurry!”

As everyone began to get ready for the journey, their father told them they could only take but a single change of clothes.  

Their mother cried.   “Leave all my things?    The pictures of our wedding?   My chair, where I sat to nurse our children?   The bedcover that my mother made, every stitch by hand?

“Nothing,” said my father.   “Just money to buy our way to America.”  

  (Table is removed from stage)

  The word, “America” was not new to the children.   They had heard it whispered before by friends who had left our village earlier and by their parents in the restless hours of the night.    As they gathered their small sacks of possessions and moved out into the darkened streets they were joining others who also carried small sacks of belongings, who also had left everything they had known behind.   No one made a sound.  

  [Music begins to play “We Shall Overcome” in the background]  

  Angel knew their was danger.   He didn’t know where they were going but he understood they couldn’t stay.   But he also knew that somewhere, somehow it would be okay.   THAT, he believed in his heart.   He would help make sure.   And as they walked down the street, he grabbed hold of his sister’s hand.

  HYMN 169              “We Shall Overcome”


(Boat is set up on stage)


When Angel’s family arrived down at the harbor, many boats bobbed up and down in the dark waters below.   Several families were there.   People of all ages stood side by side with small bundles of possessions clutched tightly against their sides.   Men stood by the edge of the boats and talked behind their hands while gold passed from one pocket to another.   Angel’s father, who stood next to these men, came over to Angel and his mother.

“I must have your wedding ring,” Angel’s father said quickly.   “And your garnets.”  

Their mother said nothing.   Instead, she quietly took the ring from her finger.   Then she dug through the old sack she carried and brought out a tiny little bag folded up at the bottom.   From it she removed a small garnet necklace and laid it in the palm of her husband’s hand.

  He was gone only a minute.

“We will leave while it is still dark,” he said when he returned.

“How many days to America?” Jessica asked.

“Not many,” her father replied.   “Don’t be afraid.

  After an hour, while it was still dark, Angel’s father told them it was time to board the boat.   Jessica had fallen asleep and her mother carried her onto the fishing boat.   Engines roared to life and the tiny fishing boat, loaded with many people, motored loudly away from the harbor toward the open ocean.   Jessica woke up.   Are we there yet, Papa?   Can we see America?” she asked.

“Not yet, my dear,” her father replied.


An hour from shore, with the land hardly visible in the new day’s dawning, the motors stopped.   A worried look came over their mother’s face.   Men crowded around the engines.  

“A part is broken that cannot be fixed,” Angel’s father said, and as she heard this their mother’s face twisted the way it did when she closed the door of their home for the last time.   But no one gave up.   Everybody worked together to make a sail by knotting clothes together.   When they pulled it high onto the mast Angel and Jessica could see their father’s Sunday shirt blowing in the wind.   But the sail carried them back to their own shore and as they waded closer, men began to shoot at them from the cliffs.   When they turned the boat around toward the open ocean, the shooting stopped.  

  “Are we there yet?” Jessica asked.

“No.” her father replied.

“How long, Papa?” she asked.

“A little while longer,” he told her and he held us all close.   Jessica felt better when she felt her father’s arms around her, even if she did see him look over at her mother with tears in his eyes.



Most of our lives include a story like this.   A story about us.   A story where many of our ideals and expectations came to an unexpected end.   Many of us have known a time where something terrible visited our lives, something that we did not ask for or deserve.    We’ve known circumstances that have left us no choice but to change the way we lived, or loved, or looked out toward the future.   Most of our lives include a story like this.  

 Most of our lives include a time where we were asked to sacrifice something dear, leave it behind.   Many of us have endured a difficult road to help insure a better time for those we loved.   Most of us have had moments where it seemed like everything we were counting on conked out, stopped working and we ended up feeling like we were cast out to sea, steering away from all that was familiar.    We have known moments where our best things could do no more for us than flap in the breeze.  

 Whether or not the details of this story matches our own life, it is important to realize that someone in our family’s past endured some struggle in order for their lineage to survive.   Some only need to trace back a few years to remember the Soviet breakup or the Velvet revolution.   Some family’s history may have been influenced by the Asian reforms, by the Holocaust, by the English or Dutch Puritans looking for economic and religious opportunities.   Others may have simply been forced to migrate to the cities when the rural opportunities for farming became scarce.   This country was founded by some who were seeking opportunity and others escaping tragedy.   Our own family roots may hold a little bit of both.  

 Let us take a moment of silence remembering those who came before us.   Those whom we have known, others whose lives and choices we can only imagine.   We only need to think of them for a moment to remember our debt, to understand the gratitude we owe them.

 Let us keep silence together.


(Boat is removed. Table is set up upon which there are four bowls and four chalices.   There will be two loaves of bread and one pitcher of grape juice)


In everyone’s life there are moments where we come face to face with brokenness (break the bread) and with life’s sweetness (pour the juice).   Our strength as a community comes when we recognize our ability to share these moments with those who help give them meaning.   This morning, as we come forward to share our joys and concerns let us take a moment to consecrate these symbols.   Speaking our concerns from our seats, we will take some bread, break off a piece and place it in one of these bowls.   with our joys, we will pour this grape juice into one of these four chalices.


 Let us imagine ourselves in a toast for all the joys left unshared today.   And for those concerns too tender to escape the silent sanctuary of our hearts, let us remember that the most nourishing thing we can offer those in need is when we share a piece of our own life and a place in our own community.


(Table is pushed back.   Boat is returned.)


Day followed night and night followed day.   The food ran out even though many of the people on the boat had hardly eaten.   Many became sick.   At sunset, everyone huddled close together in the bow of the boat.   Then mother, sensing that her children were becoming frightened, began to sing.  

  [Music begins and choir helps sing “We Shall Overcome,” softly]

  Soon, their father began to sing.   Then others on the boat.   After a few minutes, Angel and Jessie began to sing, like they used to back home.   And for a while, they all felt safe.

  [Music stops]

  But the waves and the wind continued.   And so did the hunger.   By day, everyone took turns fishing off the side of the boat and shared the catch.   When it rained they caught the water in buckets and saved it to drink.  

  Often great whales and porpoises would swim close to the small fishing boat.   They would swim around and round and the children would get excited.   “Come push us whale!” Angel’s mother shouted.   “Push us to America.”   But the whales did not hear.

  Early one morning there was the shout of “Land!” and everyone on the boat crowded close to the railing.   But even when they pulled on the sail, the boat would go no closer to the shore.   The reef was shallow and they were grounded on sand.  

  “We will swim for help,” Angel’s father said and he and two others jumped into the dark water.  

“No!” his mother cried.

But they were already gone.  

  After a great while, those on the boat saw them begin to rise up on the green roll of the surf.   When they made it to shore everyone danced and cheered.   But as soon as they walked up onto the sand, several soldiers appeared above them on the rocks.   Everyone was quiet and Angel’s mother drew her children close to her.   “They are bringing them back,” she whispered.

  The three men were brought back in a smaller boat with an outboard motor.   They were escorted by three soldiers with rifles.   They pulled up alongside the fishing boat and Angel’s father and the other two joined their families.   Then the soldiers began handing the people water and fruit and other food.   They did not speak, or even smile, as they tossed it up to the waiting hands.   Then, as quickly as they came, the soldiers sat down in their boat and motored away.

“Was this not the right land, Papa?” Angel asked his father.   “Will it not do?”

“It would do,” he explained.   “But they would not take us.”

Jessica tugged at his arm.   “They don’t like us?” she asked.

“It’s not that.”   He stopped and looked sadly at their mother.   He did not finish explaining why they could not stay.

  Angel’s family got two papayas and three lemons and a coconut with milk that tasted like flowers.   The sea was rough that night and the voices of the people that sang was almost lost in the wind.  

  [Music starts and the choir comes in very softly singing, “We Shall All Be Free....We shall all be free, someday..”]

  Angel and Jessica forced their mouths to speak the words as the stars dipped and turned above their heads.

“Deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall all be free, someday.”

  [Music stops.]

  In another few days, when their food was almost gone, they spotted another boat roaring close.   It was another small boat with a motor. For a moment everyone was filled with joy.   “More food!” one person said.   “They will show us where we can go!” another shouted.    But as the men in the boat pulled up close, everyone could see that their faces were covered and they carried pistols and rifles.  

“Thieves!” Angel’s mother screamed.   And for a tense moment, fear moved like a bad wind among all the people.  

  The thieves in the other boat scrambled aboard the stern of the fishing boat and all the people moved to bow.   They began waving their guns and shouting for money and jewels.   There was little to take, but what the people had, went with them as they returned to their small boat and roared away.

 (Boat is removed.   Linda, Jim, Karen and Jessie collect the offering.)



Perhaps right after a ring of thieves rob a struggling band of refugees is not the best time for a church to collect it’s offering.   But there is also something important to say here.   We live in a world that is often unfair.   It can often demand much, offer little and end up robbing us of many things.   But when we let the world rob us of our generosity, we have let it make off with something that is truly irreplaceable.   We will now receive this mornings offering.  


 For the work of the church, which keeps our spirits afloat in stormy seas, we accept this, our offering, and make of ourselves, a community.

 (Boat is returned.)



On the very next day, after an evening when few people sang, Angel and his family awoke and began to fish.   They cut open their last lemon and shared it with another family.   And as he cast his line out to sea, Angel’s father sighted land.   But all the people were too afraid to hope.   They looked out to the tree lined shore with cautious optimism.  

  (Bill gets up - with his engineer hat - and comes toward the boat as though he is captaining a tugboat.   He circles the boat twice and throws down a rope.)

  A boat came. A large boat, much bigger then the fishing boat.   Angel’s mother clasped her hands and bent her head.   Was she afraid to hope too?

  The man driving the boat looked over to the people huddled close together in the fishing boat who looked cautiously back at him.   He circled them twice.   He shut off his engine and then walked to the side of the railing and smiled.   He threw down a rope which was tied to the bow of the fishing boat and the big boat pulled the little one to the shore.  

  There was silence among the families on the boat as they arrived: an anxious, watchful silence.    People waited on the dock.  

  (Diantha begins to wave, then greets people and eventually ushers them toward the table.)

  “Welcome,” they called as the many people stepped upon land for the first time in many days.   “Welcome to America.”  

  That was when the silence turned to cheers.

  (As people step out of boat, boat is removed and table is set up.   On the table is placed the four loaves of bread, the four chalices and the pitcher of juice.)

  “But how did you know that we would come today?” Angel’s father asked.

“Perhaps people come every day,” his mother replied.   “Perhaps they understand how it is for us.”

  People on the shore came out of their homes when they saw the tiny boat arrive.   Those who were sick were helped off and taken to beds where they could lay down and receive medicine.   The people were led away from the shore where there was a large shed, warm from the sun shining down on its tin roof.   People were standing in the doorway of the shed greeting them and encouraging them to go inside.  

  Inside, there was a table.   At first Angel and his family thought it was too small to hold all of the people who came, but somehow they managed to make room for everyone.   On the table was food.   More food than any of them had seen in a long while.  

  “Do you know what day it is?” a woman asked Angel as she passed him a dinner plate.  

“It is the coming to America Day,” he replied.

“Yes,” she smiled.   “That is true.   But it is special for another reason, too.   Today is Thanksgiving.”

“What is Thanksgiving?” Jessica asked happily as food began to come her way.

“Long ago, unhappy people came here to start new lives,” the woman spoke.   “Many of them were sad to leave, and feared they would not find a place that would welcome them.   Many others could not come themselves, but sent their children, and their children’s children.   Some came for safety.   Some came for freedom.   Some for opportunity.   But as they arrived, they did two important things:   they ate together and they gave thanks together.   They realized that just as the food nourished them and allowed them to survive, so did the people who helped them and loved them and taught them and sacrificed for them every day along their journey.  

  “We have much to be thankful for” Angel’s father responded.

And as he said this, the others at the table bowed their head in prayer.



Let us join together in the spirit of prayer.   Spirit of Life and Love, Thou who leads us through the toils and snares of this life, revealing joy in unexpected places, we are grateful for this community which receives and nurtures us week in and week out.   When we are tired and worn, when we have exhausted our last efforts and expended all hope of getting ourselves to this present moment, we are fed and nourished by the faces among us who keep us steady and welcome our arrival.   They let us know that it is okay to be weary.   They remind us that it’s okay to be sad when our dreams have been stolen from us.   They stand ready and reveal to us a table that is already set, a table where we will again be nourished, where we can recall the feelings of comfort and joy and remember that it is only as far away as our nearest friend.   Spirit of Life and Love, thank you for this chance to share our gratitude.   There is much in this life to be thankful for.   Amen.


HYMN 407           “We’re Gonna Sit At The Welcome Table”


Even in the earliest communities food was a way of giving thanks.   It was offered as sacrifice.   It was eaten in remembrance.   In some faiths it is often used as a sacrament for salvation.    As Unitarian Universalists, many of us recognize that our salvation comes about by the mutual care and concern of the people around us.    Our strength as a community comes from our ability to hold and sustain the joys and sorrows that make up the individual lives among us.   Though we all, at times, may recognize the brokenness [hold up the bread] and the sweetness [hold up the juice] of our own lives, the meaning we carry with us comes from what we, and our communities, can make from these moments and memories.   This morning, we celebrate a new kind of communion.   One that does not replace the meaning of communions of our past.   But one that is taken in addition to them.   A communion of gratitude, of giving and receiving, one with another.   This is an open communion.   You need not be a member of this community to share in this.   And we understand if your own beliefs and history ask you not to participate.   We are grateful for your presence among us just the same.    Now, in the manner that our family in the story has shared this bread and juice, we offer the opportunity to share this communion with one another as a community.


In the days that followed, Angel and his family began building a life for themselves in this new country.   There was sadness in the early going.   There were family and friends that did not make the journey and whom they missed dearly.   Yet, they were part of a new community.   The people on the boat who shared their hardships became forever dear for they had shared something inevitable and unforgettable.   The people who welcomed them earned their thanks and their trust.   And the struggles which brought them to this new place, in the end, made them closer.  

  Every year, they stopped and remembered this day, by sharing a meal with others and giving thanks.   In a strange way, this journey - fraught with hardship and sacrifice - became dear to them.   Through it they learned perseverance and courage, patience and trust, the meaning of sharing and a steady resolve to move into the future with an unwavering love and an abiding faith.


[Music begins to play “I’m On My Way” softly in the background]

 This community has faced many struggles and found ways to rise above the tests and traumas and see the joy on the far side.   Our work with Discovery Hall is a case in point.   Though sacrifice has been part of this journey, we have found ways, and great cause, to celebrate in the end.   It is almost done.   And though the pull is strong, we have resisted from shouting out loud, “Aren’t we there yet?!?!”   But instead we have kept calling out, “I’m On My Way.”   Join us as we make our way over there to dedicate our new building.   And sing with us as we go.

  HYMN 116           “I’m On My Way”  


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