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Better than receiving: Giving, serving adds joy to Christmas Mary Jacobs, Dec 18, 2009
FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF MARK STRATER
Kasandra Strater (left) helps her children, Abby and Dylan, load up donuts to pass out on Christmas Day 2008 as part of Krispy Kreme Christmas, an outreach project of Custer Road UMC in Plano, Texas.
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
Cheryl Haver had to work on Christmas Day when she was younger. “It’s not fun,” she recalls. “You have two hours with your family and then you have to be with other people.”
That memory was why Ms. Haver and her family were quick to volunteer to spend part of their Christmas Day driving around town, spreading a little cheer to folks who have to work on Dec. 25.
Traditionally, many American Christians stay home for the holidays—snuggling in for special Christmas services or cozy dinners at church, or staying at home with their families. But some United Methodist churches are stepping out of that holiday comfort zone—even on Christmas Day—to reach out beyond their congregations to help the needy or provide just a little extra Christmas cheer.
Whether they’re serving up a Christmas Day dinner, passing out Christmas treats or organizing elaborate Christmas shopping experiences for needy families, United Methodists who get involved in holiday outreach ministries say the time spent is always paid back many times in dividends of Christmas joy.
After participating last year, the Haver family signed up again for Krispy Kreme Christmas, an outreach of Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas. Volunteers deliver donuts to folks who must work on Christmas Day—places like fire departments and animal shelters.
“It was really fun,” said Ms. Haver’s daughter, Crimson Rose, 8. “There were people who couldn’t be with their family and it helps them to think about their families.”
Community UMC in Ogden, Iowa, opens up the church for a Christmas Day dinner. The event is open to anyone in the community—including those who might be alone on Christmas or who lack the means to buy or prepare a good meal. Other local churches pitch in with food and volunteers.
Last year, the event drew about 70 guests from the rural community of about 2,000 people. Visitors can show up in the morning for hot apple cider, fellowship and table games.
“It’s a nice way to give and to make the day special,” said Stan Friesen, a member of the church. “What you are doing is sharing the love of Christ.”
Instead of “giving up” family time to help, he adds, many families came together, before or after their own celebrations, to help serve or clean up.
That lesson of “giving is better than receiving” wasn’t lost on Michele Caine, a member of Asbury UMC in Tulsa, Okla. She helped launch a program at the church that provides needy kids a chance to give, too.
About 300 kids from single-parent families came to Asbury on Dec. 5 for its third annual Christmas Shop. Instead of choosing toys for themselves, the kids could “shop” for gifts for their siblings, parents and grandparents at a “store” put together by the church.
“A lot of people have lost sight of the meaning of Christmas,” said Ms. Caine. “It’s all about ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme.’ This gives kids the chance to experience the joy of giving to others.”
Each child was matched with an adult mentor who helped select and then wrap the gifts. While the kids shopped, parents received packets of information on services provided by church, such as Celebrate Recovery. Each family had the opportunity to have a holiday photo portrait taken and each left with a box filled with all the needed ingredients for a Christmas dinner.
Similarly, Market Street United Methodist Church in Greensboro, N.C., offered its third annual Christmas Store on Dec. 12. A major, year-long project involving countless volunteer hours, the Christmas Store brings about 350 parents to a “store” set up in the church, to choose toys and clothing for their children. The church serves about 1,000 children through the effort. Some 25 local churches pitch in with donations and volunteers.
“When people help out with this, they walk out with tears in their eyes,” said Elizabeth Montgomery, coordinator of outreach ministry at Market Street. “When you walk in, it looks like a beautiful Christmas store. It’s a beautiful picture of the abundance of God’s love.”
Volunteers, she added, “feel as if they’ve truly experienced Christmas. I can’t explain it, but the presence of the Holy Spirit is there in that room.”
The Rev. John Baldwin, associate pastor for missions and evangelism for Custer Road UMC, says that hands-on outreach projects like these are not only fulfilling and good for the soul—they help engage younger people in the church.
“They’re not concerned about doctrine,” he said of youth and young adults. “The ‘we’ generation wants to know what you’re doing out there.”
Parents report, however, that getting out of the holiday routine can initially present a challenge. After the Montes family of Custer Road UMC signed up to deliver donuts last year, the kids griped mightily.
When they started, “we had 10 dozen to deliver, and to make the task more daunting, four hostile children in the car wanting to be home with the gifts,” Jenni Montes recalls.
The reactions of the donut recipients, however, soon changed the kids’ hearts. At one local supermarket, she recalls, an employee was so excited to receive the treats that he shouted across the store to his manager: “Bob, come here! There are some people here who still believe in Christmas!”
With the blessing of those four formerly hostile children, the Montes family will be handing out donuts again this Christmas.