Back in the 1990s when I worked for the Night Ministry, we held an annual Christmas dinner. It took place in the basement of a nearby Presbyterian church, and it was a grand event. Churches donated cooked turkeys, buckets of mashed potatoes and stuffing, gallons of cranberry sauce, and enough pies to stack to the ceiling several times. We’d collect up socks and gloves and other necessities for the homeless folks who came to the dinner and made sure everyone left with some kind of present. While there were some grumbles – a few would request money so that they could buy some liquid Christmas cheer – mostly the attendees were grateful for a warm place to be.
We recruited lots of volunteers. Hosts greeted guests and seated them at tables covered with festive cloths on tables adorned with real silverware and poinsettia. We needed kitchen staff through the 8 hours we were open. Chefs came with their knives to carve the turkey, others loaded plates, still others sliced pie and put it out, and waitstaff took a meal to each seated guest. No one should stand in line on Christmas. A pianist pounded out familiar songs and hymns of the season and we all sang along.
Even with the need for all that help, by late November or early December, we’d have all we could possibly need, but the calls kept coming. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to do something to celebrate the real spirit of Christmas on Christmas day. We’d encourage the people to come along to share in the meal and to be company to the other guests, but few people showed up to do that.
If I by chance answered the phone and had to say that we didn’t need any more volunteers, I would always suggest that the callers check with the winter overnight shelters in February when their regular volunteers were getting tired and they needed new energy. Or that they remember the food banks in the summer when stocks often run low. The callers would almost always ask if I knew of anyone else who was doing something on Christmas day, and sadly, we didn’t.
One of the things about which I’m most proud of our congregation is that we don’t only show up on Christmas to provide support and care to our community. Some folks help serve meals to people who don’t have a steady place to eat. Many of us have contributed in big and small ways to make the life of kids at Mann Elementary School better. We provided books and clothing and coats across the year, and our Christmas tree has gifts crowded under it to go to families who need a little extra help to have a happy holiday. There are people who faithfully support those incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center and their families.
And that’s not even all the organized ways in which we’re doing the work of Christmas out in the world. I know many of you are out there on your own living out your faith by giving of your time and talents to that same work.
Over the coming months, you’ll be hearing about other opportunities to take part other efforts. Watch for a special Collaboration Gathering in January to explore some other avenues we’re exploring to help everyone engage.
Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice or other winter holidays that you celebrate, I invite you into the spirit of Christmas as articulated by Rev. Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
Love and joy and hope to one and all!