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?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis