Chapel Thanksgiving

Thanks to a file of old clippings in my bookshelf, I know exactly what I was doing 52 years ago.

I was sitting at my gray desk in the base chapel at RAF Station Woodbridge, England, pressing a special pencil against specially treated paper to produce a drawing for the base daily bulletin.

The daily bulletin, or DB as it was economically dubbed, was printed each day at the base publications office. It went to each duty section on each of the twin bases – RAF Bentwaters and Woodbridge – and it was usually filled with unclassified military esoterica, often to remind officers to remind their NCOs to remind their airmen to shine their shoes and wear the proper seasonal uniform. We wore 1505 short-sleeved tan uniforms in the summer, and blues in the winter, and the DB told us when to where what.

On rare occasions the top brass permitted special advertisements to be attached to the bulletin, sometimes to promote attendance at Bentwaters football games or other morale building activities. As the base’s resident cartoonist, I was occasionally invited to provide drawings for such advertisements – at least until the Wing Commander, Colonel Robin Olds, complained to my supervisor that my cartoons made officers look too fat and too goofy.

A safe outlet for my drawings was the promotion of chapel programs and worship services because the senior chaplain kept a close eye on my efforts. When it was decided that all the chaplains would cooperate in an “interfaith” service to celebrate Thanksgiving, the chaplain asked me to draw something to encourage base airmen and their families to attend. “Be nice,” he said. “And show me what you drew before you send it to base pubs.”

I don’t remember all the drawings I made for the DB, but I remember this one: sitting at my desk, sipping black coffee, smoking unfiltered cigarettes, using thick-leaded pencils to draw bold outlines and smaller pencils for the painstaking process of minute shading. I stylized my signature on the drawing as “E.K. Jenks,” harking back to my youthful predilection to add a “K” to my name in honor of my idol, John F. Kennedy.

The drawing suggests an idealized – and Americanized – image of Thanksgiving, and the scenery was probably inspired by my recent visits to Berchtesgaden, Germany. A half-century on, reflecting now as a seasoned ecumenist, I might point out that it was not an “interfaith” service because the only faith represented was Christianity. But it was certainly an ecumenical service in the best spirit of interdenominational cooperation: Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Southern Baptist.

The drawing survives today as a token of a long-past Thanksgiving when I was taking my first steps on what would become a life-long ecumenical adventure.

And it is a precious souvenir of a particularly happy time of my youth.

About Philip E Jenks

Philip, a synodical deacon in the ELCA Metropolitan New York synod, is a retired communicator for American Baptist Churches USA, the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and two Philadelphia area daily newspapers. He and his spouse, the Rev. Dr. Martha M. Cruz, are the parents of six adults and are members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, N.Y. They live in Port Chester, N.Y.
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