The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
UM staffers step up service during Christmas Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Dec 22, 2011
UMNS PHOTO COURTESY KATHY ENTSMINGER
Kathy Entsminger of the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration honored her late brother, a cancer victim and sock-lover, by starting a drive to collect socks for needy families.
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg United Methodist News Service
It all began with a pair of colorful, comfortable, cozy socks.
Kathy Entsminger’s seriously ill brother, Steve Watkins, loved socks. So after he died of cancer in 1999, she decided to use his affinity for socks to honor him. Four years ago, at her workplace—the denomination’s finance agency in Nashville, Tenn.—she started “Steve’s Socks.” At Christmastime, staff members collect socks for men, women and children to benefit three agencies aiding displaced families.
“One person has her daughter’s school class collecting socks,” said Sharon Dean, communications director. In fact, five classes in that school have gotten into the act, along with two banks, a trucking company, a research firm and Shiloh United Methodist Church in Columbiana, Ala.
Last year, Ms. Entsminger and her colleagues collected more than 1,500 pairs. This year’s goal was 2,000. However, on Dec. 1, Ms. Entsminger already had 2,195 pairs. “So I’m raising my goal to 3,000,” she said happily.
“All these wonderful people, many whom I don’t know, say, ‘I don’t have a lot of money, but I can do socks.’”
In a variety of ways, United Methodist annual conferences and general agencies keep Christ in Christmas. The office Christmas party may be a potluck instead of dinner at a pricey venue. Gift exchanges with co-workers often, instead, become opportunities to give to vulnerable people and to volunteer with those who live on the margins.
Holston Conference has an “angel tree.” Paper angel ornaments include the first name and gift choices of needy children, and staff members buy presents for their “angels.”
“We bring the gifts to the office so they can be delivered collectively,” said the Rev. Carol E. Wilson, executive assistant to the bishop.
Giving to others is also on the minds of the Indiana Conference Center staff, which, like Holston, sponsors an angel tree. They also have a random-act-of-kindness event.
“One morning close to our Christmas break,” said the Rev. Dan Gangler, “each staff member will be given a $20 bill with instructions to go into our community, give the $20 as a random act of kindness and return to the center by 1 p.m. to share stories during a light lunch.” Dr. Gangler directs communications for the conference.
The Rev. Victoria Rebeck reported from the Minnesota Conference where she, too, coordinates communications.
“A few years ago,” she recalled, “we had a Christmas ornament exchange. Everyone brought ornaments, and we hung them on a tree. You could ‘buy’ one, and the full cost benefited our conference Russia Church Initiative.”
This year, they are trying a different approach. “We will have a cookie exchange in the conference office,” Ms. Rebeck said. “We’ve decided that people can fill up a plate for a suggested donation of $10 to Imagine No Malaria. Ten dollars [for an insecticide-treated bed net] saves a life.”
Reporting from the Western Pennsylvania Conference, news and information specialist Jackie Campbell said the staff often gives contributions to honor the bishop, the connectional ministries director and the conference treasurer. For Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, donations have gone toward Imagine No Malaria and camperships.
Several United Methodist general agencies also focus on others during the holiday season.
To complement “Steve’s Socks,” the General Council on Finance and Administration has a food drive “because the need is so great,” said Ms. Dean. “For people who will not be donating food, we have a virtual food-drive site . . . and we can make monetary donations.” That month-long emphasis has an extra fundraising twist.
“People can dress casually on days other than Friday by making a donation,” Ms. Dean explained. “For instance, we had ‘Pick-a-Pasta Monday.’ For bringing in a nonperishable pasta, [people] could dress casually on Monday. If they dressed casually and forgot the pasta, they could make a donation on the virtual site. This week it’s ‘Can you? Could you? Canned goods.’”
Each of the past two Decembers, the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society in Washington, D.C., has conducted a Bible study that is open to the public and promoted on the sign in the front of the building. This year the Advent study is using the Rev. Mike Slaughter’s Christmas Is Not Your Birthday. The studies follow the agency’s Wednesday worship service.
Every year, the staff of the Nashville-based General Board of Discipleship starts its Advent journey with a retreat. This year, donning purple T-shirts with the “Behold the Waiting World” message, volunteers signed up and worked at several non-profits around the city.
“We start with an all-staff meeting,” said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, “have a brief lunch and then spend the rest of the day helping others.” He heads communications for the agency. The 2011 event took some staff to a United Methodist-supported community center, where they helped preschoolers with crafts, while others boxed meals for a ministry that alleviates hunger in the United States and around the world.
Across the street, at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, staffers observe Christmas through “12 days of sharing.” Starting Dec. 1, each day they have activities to encourage staff to celebrate the season and give to others so that more may experience a truly blessed holiday season. Choices range from participating in a recipe exchange to getting involved in ministries with homeless people, students with special needs and more.
This year, staffers of United Methodist Communications, also in Nashville, are adopting” a family featured in a recent United Methodist News Service story. The family still is recovering from the spring 2010 Middle Tennessee flood, which severely damaged their home.
Teams at the communications agency are providing a tree and ornaments, fixings for a holiday meal and gift cards as well as buying several presents on the family’s wish list.
Even amid year-end job responsibilities and personal obligations, staff members across the United Methodist connection embrace the chance to reach out with God’s love.
“Sometimes,” Ms. Dean said, “it is hard to get people to share the stories of the volunteer, charitable and giving programs they participate in because they do it for reasons other than the glory and recognition. We applaud that. We are actively promoting and supporting volunteerism.”
The Rev. Larry Hollon, United Methodist Communications top executive, echoed that sentiment.
“What I’ve discovered about the people I work with,” he said, “is that Christmas isn’t the only time they give to those who have less and need more. They put their hearts into their giving year-round, sharing not only their financial resources but giving their time and talent as well.”