Area leaders filed into Fort Stewart’s Main Post Chapel on Sunday evening, joining in prayer and renditions of “God Bless America” and “Amazing Grace” led by the Liberty County Mass Choir, during the annual Mayor’s Thanksgiving Service.
The program, a joint effort from the city of Hinesville and the military, included prayers, scripture readings and public addresses from members of the local United Ministerial Alliance. Approximately $2,440 was raised for Hinesville’s Next Step Homeless Program.
Jerry Kicklighter took advantage of the opportunity to worship and listen to music from the mass and Fort Stewart Gospel choirs. The recent sweep of economic hardship should not deter gratitude, according to Kicklighter.
“But actually, we should be doing that (giving thanks) all the time, not just when times are bad,” Kicklighter said.
He said he especially liked the service’s patriotic theme.
Installation chaplain Col. Gary Moore greeted the crowd of about 600 seated in chapel pews, reminding them of the sacrifices that make such celebrations possible.
“Our liberties have been bought with a price and we are humbled,” Moore said.
Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, 3rd Infantry Division commanding general, reiterated that the right to assemble is a hard-earned freedom. He said it is one reason why soldiers serve.
“You and I know there are some parts of this world that desperately wish that they and their neighbors could come together just like this gathering tonight,” Cucolo said. “But they can’t.”
He also touched on the issue of religious tolerance, and the threat from those who would like to do away with it.
“But they won’t,” Cucolo assured. “Not while we’re on duty.”
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas agreed the United States provides great freedoms.
“It has many flaws, but it is truly the best place in this world to live,” Thomas said.
Hinesville had a special obligation to give thanks, according to Thomas, with many locals somehow connected with the military.
“We’re not suffering the loss of jobs that many cities are,” he said. “We’re growing in an impressive way and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.”
Growth, coupled with the safe return of deployed soldiers, is “living proof” of divine grace and blessing, Thomas said, but he reminded those in attendance to remember the less fortunate and those who’ve lost loved ones, and to reach out to anyone in need.
The Rev. Hermon Scott, pastor of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church, offered a benediction that brought audience members to their feet in a burst of applause and cheers.
“As we give moments of Thanksgiving, I challenge you to forget about for a moment the things you don’t have,” Scott said. “Take a moment to tell God thank you for the stuff you do have.”
Ed and Frances Moody have been going to the Thanksgiving service since it started at the First Methodist Church at least 10 years ago.
“The whole thing was just so enlightening,” Frances Moody said.
She agreed with Kicklighter that hard times do not make the ability to give thanks hard.
“He’s really showing us where our strength comes from at this point,” Moody said. “We’ve got to have something that we can count on at this point in time.”
Dennis Kennedy joined in the reception after the service.
He works on post. It was his first time in the chapel since moving to the area in 2002.
“I’ve seen services like this at Christmas and Thanksgiving in Texas, but I’m glad to see it in Hinesville,” Kennedy said.
His wife, Jennie, said she enjoyed listening to selections from the choir and the mayor’s address.
“It’s a great start for the holidays,” she said.