Preacher, missionary, physician, poet: Howe shares spirit of Thanksgiving

Preacher, missionary, physician, poet: Howe shares spirit of Thanksgiving

Story and Verse: This is the first in a Thanksgiving-to-Epiphany series.

EARLY IN HIS MINISTRY, the Rev. Harry Howe began to write poems. They emerged as he worked on sermons or homilies for funerals. Later, his listeners often approached him for written copies of the poems he shared.

As Howe gravitated away from the pulpit toward becoming a full-time missionary in the 1980s, the poems multiplied. “In mission, I felt more inspired and saw a greater correlation to living out my faith,” he explains. “You are with people as they are suffering.”
Howe unloads firewood to heat a neighbor's home.

Over the years, Howe witnessed a lot of suffering. As founder and director of Project Crossroads and a physician's assistant at a free clinic in Marion, Virginia, he walks with people as they grapple with poverty and the question, “Do I buy medicine or food or do I heat my home?” Because there is not enough money to have all at once.

At the end of the day, the poems have helped Harry Howe process all that he sees and reconnect with the Father in gratitude.

Thirty-one years ago, Howe was making small talk with a neighbor and asked if he was going to have a nice Thanksgiving. Howe was taken aback when the person said, “Nah, it’s just another day.”

A community Thanksgiving dinner was born when Howe said, “Well, you’ll never have another Thanksgiving like that.” A huge meal was prepared annually with volunteers at the local junior high school, then served or delivered from First United Methodist Church in Marion. As many as 400 to 450 people were fed annually.

“We tend to forget that there are those who may not have family to gather with, adequate food to nourish them, much less the traditional turkey and all that goes with it, nor sufficient shelter from the cold,” Howe says.

“We forget that when we are blessed, we are to become a blessing unto others. This is not accomplished through words, but through our actions every day.”

For the first time since it started, the annual Thanksgiving dinner is not possible this year, due to health risks and restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The community mourns the lost opportunity to “hold the hand of the stranger, as we hold the hands of those who are family and affirm that we are all of God’s family,” Howe said.

The following poem was written by Marion's resident poet as a closure for their Thanksgiving meal together:


Real Thanksgiving

We lift our voices up in praise
    To our God who reigns above
Give our thanks for all He’s done
    Through His grace and wondrous love
As we pause in humble thought
    May our words not just proclaim
The bounties we have received
    Midst others in need of same
God has blessed what He has sown
    He’s entrusted in our heart
That it may grow, thus abound
    So that we may do our part
God’s grace and love are the gifts
    That will fill our cup each day
So being full we may serve
    Those in need upon our way
To give thanks for all He’s done
    Isn’t just with lifted word
But is said with every act
    That is how our thanks is heard
To share in real thanksgiving
    And thank God for all He’s done
In grace now serve our neighbor
    Through love as in Christ His Son
-- Harry Howe

Coming next week: The Unopened Gift

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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.



Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.

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