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Blessing bikes, planting flags: What churches are doing to celebrate Memorial Day

Blessing bikes, planting flags: What churches are doing to celebrate Memorial Day

Members of Rolling Thunder listen during the "Blessing of the Bikes" ceremony at National Cathedral in Washington, May 23, 2014. National Cathedral welcomed members of Rolling Thunder XXVII ahead of their annual ride on the Memorial Day weekend. | (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States centered on remembering members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have died.

In addition to the usual festivities of parades, gatherings, and the decorations of graves, churches across the country have their own ways of observing the solemn holiday.

First Baptist Church of Dallas held a remembrance service on Sunday.

“We will take a moment in the service to remember those who have given their lives to protect our nation,” Pastor Robert Jeffress told CP on Friday via email.

“After verbally acknowledging their sacrifice, ‘Taps’ will be played and a prayer will be offered for the families of our military men and women who have died in the service of our country.”

Jeffress also told CP that FBC Dallas has an annual service with a focus on American nationalism called “Freedom Sunday,” which is scheduled to take place on June 30.

“We will dedicate the entire service to celebrating our freedom as Americans and as Christians,” continued Jeffress, whose congregation has garnered controversy in the past for the patriotic themes of the service.

“In addition to the inspiring patriotic and inspirational music, we will recognize all who have served in all branches of the military.  Our guest speaker that day will be Lt. Col. Oliver North who will share his Christian testimony.”

Rev. Nan Peete blesses motorcycles belonging to members of Rolling Thunder during the "Blessing of the Bikes" ceremony at National Cathedral in Washington, May 23, 2014. National Cathedral welcomed members of Rolling Thunder XXVII ahead of their annual ride on the Memorial Day weekend. | (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

The Washington National Cathedral, a prominent Episcopal Church congregation in the nation’s capital, held a “Blessing of the Bikes” event early Friday evening.

The event was created in 2014 and held as a way to welcome participants of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle gathering who were traveling to the area for the holiday weekend.

Included on the agenda was a brief service with a two-bell ceremony. From there, attendees departed for a candlelight vigil held at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Ruth Frey, director of programs at Washington National Cathedral, told CP in a 2015 interview that the annual event reminds them that “we cannot fully recognize and honor the living without also remembering those who have been lost.”

“This event with Rolling Thunder is part of the Cathedral's ongoing initiative to recognize and pay tribute to veterans, to offer a sacred space for spiritual healing, and to educate the civilian public about the experience of veterans and the challenges they and their families face when returning home,” said Frey at the time.

This year’s “Blessing of the Bikes” might be the final one, as the Military Times is reporting that Rolling Thunder will not return in 2020.

In Alabama, one church annually puts down thousands of small American flags on its property to remember the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

Grace Place Church of Enterprise, Alabama placed 6,809 American flags on their property during Memorial Day Weekend 2014 in memory of the 6,809 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. | (Photo: Grace Place Church)

Grace Place Church of Enterprise places around 7,000 American flags on its lawn, with volunteers showing up earlier in the week to plant the banners.

In an interview with CP in 2014, when the church first created this display, former Grace Place Pastor Donny Thrasher explained that it was meant to "remind our congregation that freedom isn't free, that it often is paid for with the lives of our military."

“Our church really got behind this project; from paying for the flags to putting out the flags today,” said Thrasher at the time.

“Many of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan sponsored flags with donations and dozens of them were present today to put out the flags.”

Thrasher also told CP in 2014 that he felt it was "very important" that churches in America remember the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

"No people in the world are as free as we are to worship without fear of reprisal; and that freedom to worship and serve our Lord and Savior is protected and paid for by our military. Memorial Day is about remembering those who paid for it with their life," noted Thrasher.

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