If you are planning your worship and fellowship schedules for 2017, please consider inviting one of our Church Relations Officers to join you! We are available to preach, teach, and/ or share a minute for mission at NO COST to your congregation.
Rev. Nicole C. Ball has openings Feb-May for
Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC congregations.
Rev. Jordan B. Davis has openings April-May for
North Carolina and South Carolina congregations.
From our families to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I remember the first time I learned about alternative gifts. I was a young child and desperately awaiting Santa’s arrival in hopes he would bring that Pony I kept asking for. As we wrapped gifts for family, my parents asked us to sign a card for our Grandparents, explaining that we were giving some animals from the Heifer Project. I was so confused! We could give animals to my Grandparents, but I couldn’t get a pony? We had a bigger backyard!! They proceeded to explain to three very confused little girls that the animals were not going to our Grandparents, but were in HONOR of them. A family in another country would receive the animals and be able to work on their farms and feed their family with thanks to the animals.
It was hard to understand this gift at first, but that idea has always stuck with me. Admittedly, I don’t follow my parent’s example as much as I should but I received a beautiful reminder of that gift, and how I can change my own gift-giving, when I visited Chapel in the Pines (Chapel Hill, NC) on the Third Sunday of Advent.
Chapel in the Pines might be a young congregation, but they are doing great work! As I explored their website to prepare for my visit, I was impressed by the outreach projects I saw listed. When I walked through the door on Sunday, I was greeted by examples of that outreach in almost every corner of the building. A full bulletin board, flyers on the doors, and baskets of food in the nooks. All of these caught my eye, but it was the tables up front that excited me the most!
“The Alternative Gift Market” gives those attending Chapel in the Pines an opportunity to think differently about the gifts they give during the holiday season. Each person has the opportunity to learn more about each organization the congregation supports, pick one or many to support financially, and then write a card to a loved one explaining the gift. Some material gifts were available, but the money from those went to organizations as well!
Another great opportunity to turn focus away from the commercialized season is the “Reverse Advent Calendar” that each person is encouraged to take part in. Instead of opening a tiny door to find a piece of chocolate each day, each person or family places one non-perishable food item in a box. At the close of the Advent season, these boxes and baskets will be gathered and given to the food pantry that the congregation supports.
I believe it is incredibly important to set examples like these early-on in the lives of our children. At the very least, it helps to remind them that this season is not only about toys. It is also important that we remember that no matter how little we feel me might have, we always have enough to help another person. Whether it is a $1 gift or a $1,000 gift, an hour of service or a month of service. God has given us so much, and one of the greatest gifts is the ability to reach out. I celebrate and give thanks that Chapel in the Pines is turning the focus the Christmas season and empowering each person to give in a new way!
How does your church encourage individuals to give in new ways?
December 6 is celebrated by many in the western cultures as St. Nicholas Day (Eastern cultures celebrate on December 19). St. Nicholas was a man of great faith and devotion who lived a life to serve others who were in need. The story of Santa Claus is based on the life of this real man, and can serve as a beautiful reminder for all if we take a moment to look beyond the sleigh and the toys!
Did you know that Santa prays for you and your children?
No, I am not crazy– please stay with me for a few moments!
Over the last several years, I have had the honor and privilege to get to know many men and women who “wear the red suit” as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. I have always sat in wonder as they talk not just about the toys that children ask for, but also about those little glimpses of an individual’s life that are kept hidden from the rest of the world. It seems no matter the age of the person, Santa is a “safe space” for many individuals with something weighing on their hearts or who need a listening ear.
I have been thinking about this a lot since Sunday. It was my week “off” and I filled the pulpit at a church in my Presbytery. During the prayers of intercession, something moved me to speak with each person who chose to come to the front to pray hand in hand. Prayers were lifted for loved ones who are sick or away from home, for personal struggles, and for peace. One prayer almost brought me to tears though.
In the midst of a circle of adults, there stood one little girl of no more than eight years old. She came up to me right away and hugged me before getting in the circle, and maybe that is what prompted me to start talking to those gathered. I leaned over and asked what she was praying for, expecting to hear something about school or a sibling. For the next minute, at least, she prayed for the world and the people who are hurting, the families who have no beds, the congregation who is without a pastor… the list went on and on. I stood there part in shock and part in awe. Such a young voice praying for such big things. A small person who might be overlooked anywhere else, crying out for those that so many look past every day. Her prayer inspired Advent light to shine in my heart!
As I sat on the couch that night, next to my favorite decoration of Santa praying beside the manger, I began to think about the prayers of the morning in a new way. Here I saw a man who listens to all who come to him, praying at the side of the manger. One embodiment of love reaching out to THE embodiment of God’s Love and Grace. The one who many look to for gifts, praying at the side of the Ultimate Gift that no sleigh and reindeer can carry. This simple decoration, a reminder that even as Christmas is commercialized, the roots of Saint Nicholas’s story point back to Jesus Christ.
This Advent, each of us is seeking something, just as so many did thousands of years ago, and in many cases that might just be a listening ear that we can trust. I don’t know why I prayed with each person the way that I did, but I do know that some of those prayers– especially those of this young girl– likely would not have been voiced if I hadn’t taken that time to offer my ear and my heart. Comfort, healing, and peace can come in knowing that your prayers have been heard. Isn’t that something we all need this season?
Yes, it might seem odd, but I want to encourage each person to take a moment with Santa this year– especially if there is something weighing on you that you may not want to say to someone you know just yet. Many times, Santa actually carries a prayer journal with him, and if you watch during a break you might see him jotting down prayers that have been shared with him. The journal stays with him and he prays each day, keeping the children and families in his heart all the way.
These individuals in the red suit are ministers in their own right, taking on some of the hardest pastoral care there is this time of year– and the hardest wish lists! Santa breaks down dividing walls that we strive to but may not be able to quite yet, and offers a listening ear and prayerful heart for even our most personal Christmas prayers.
In a time that so many might feel alone or lost, seeking and longing, please know that you do have your family and friends here to listen to your prayers and I encourage you to offer that same listening presence for others as you are able. Your pastors are also available and waiting to sit with you and talk as needed. And if you aren’t quite to the point of being able to talk to someone you know, or if you have a loved one who might not be comfortable with your pastor but needs a listening ear, know that Santa is waiting and will carry those prayers with him all the way to the manger. You don’t have to be a small child to bend his ear!
Christ is the reason for the season, and maybe Santa is one of the unexpected ones who can help get us there when we might need it most!