MOHAWK — Chilly temperatures may have affected worshippers’ feet and fingers, but they didn’t keep them from attending the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Day Service at the historic Fort Herkimer Church.
Area residents and visitors entered the historic church to the sounds of the church bell ringing and sat in wooden pews or stood on the main floor and in the balcony to listen to music and participate in a sing-along, hear readings and messages from local clergy and exchange greetings with others in attendance.
Donald Fenner, chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Fort Herkimer Church, recognized the efforts of the other board members and announced the board had received a pair of awards during the past year for its efforts to preserve the church. There was an award from Preserve Our Past and a certificate of merit from the Pioneer America Society in recognition of the board’s efforts to restore the 18th century sanctuary.
Fenner also pointed out this year Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day. Hanukkah was the earliest it could be while Thanksgiving was on the latest date it could occur. That won’t happen again for many years — centuries according to some sources.
“Sorry, but I can’t be here,” Fenner joked. “I have other plans.”
A notice in the church bulletin noted the restoration of the church is continuing. The repointing of the north wall is nearly complete and will be finished in the spring. During the work that occurred last summer, masons uncovered three additional gun ports.
Assemblyman Marc Butler said he was pleased to be asked to read the presidential proclamation once again this year, especially since he no longer represents this part of Herkimer County. He joked he’d had problems downloading the proclamation from the presidential website, but when he was successful, he also had a new health insurance plan. On a more serious note, he commented, “It’s been quite a year in Herkimer County.” He recalled the March shootings in Mohawk and Herkimer and the flooding in June and early July and acknowledged the work of public officials as well as the firefighters and police who responded to these emergencies.
The Rev. Nancy E. Ryan, of the Fort Plain Reformed Church, offered the sermon. She said the tradition of thanksgiving could be found in Moses’ sermon to the Israelites, found in the book of Deuteronomy. The scripture points out “the utter importance of giving thanks above all,” she said. “It’s not just naming things to be thankful for — not that that’s a bad thing to do” She added Moses calls the people to move from a focus on what they are thankful for to a focus on whom they are thankful to.
Ryan noted Fort Plain was flooded in late June as were Mohawk and Herkimer. Afterward she wrote checks from funds that had been donated to assist people with the recovery efforts. “They thanked me, they hugged me, they wept on my shoulder,” she said. “I’d tell them, ‘Don’t thank me, thank God.’” She called on her listeners to establish thanksgiving as a daily discipline in good times and bad. Ryan said the people of Israel give thanks, using these occasions as “an opportunity to retell all that God has done for them.”
Page 2 of 2 - After the service, the Friends of the German Flatts Town Park offered refreshments in the new Community Center, located in the park adjacent to the church.
Built between 1753 and 1767, the Fort Herkimer Church is one of the oldest churches in New York state and the oldest building in Herkimer County. The church functioned as a fortress during the French and Indian War and American Revolution as well as a place of worship. The Montgomery Classis of the Reformed Church in America owns the church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.