Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
This is the biblical verse you find when you walk into 150-year-old Hope Lutheran Church in the northwestern neighborhood of Reading, Pa. It’s a reminder of what Reading needs a lot of these days: hope. Just across the street from the church is a bodega that neighbors tell Hope’s pastoral staff is not only a hangout for the lost and the lonely but a “drug” store as well. Some days hope can seem in short supply.
It wasn’t always that way.
While I spent much of my early professional life in the Lehigh Valley, I grew up in Berks County. My mother taught at Reading High School for more than 20 years. I fondly remember Saturday afternoon movies at any one of the numerous theaters along Penn Street. As I grew older, Reading changed and became a regional shopping outlet center. I know those times were far from perfect, but it’s easy to remember them as “the good old days.” It also was a time that we blissfully took for granted. It was easy to assume that the good manufacturing jobs and outlet traffic would continue forever. In a sense, we even took hope for granted because many of us felt immune from the ills of the larger world.
Odyssey Networks, the largest interfaith media coalition in North America, went to Reading in 2011 to tell a story of faith in action, of people of faith surviving and living despite great economic challenges. Odyssey’s coverage spread across the Web (many folks viewed our video news features) and even won some awards. The stories included the sad fact that Reading is still among America’s poorest small cities.
So in 2012 when CBS offered Odyssey a Christmas Eve slot on national TV, the staff again thought of Reading, but not for another story about poverty. This time we decided to come back and tell a story of hope amid tough economic times, a story of how the birth of Jesus Christ brings great hope to humankind, even people living in a city that has been ravaged by the national economic crisis.
The story of Reading is about revitalization and recovery, about Everytown, USA, of what can happen anywhere when people of faith work together. Through our media research and filming in Reading, we’ve found that residents are indeed resilient, willing to overcome life’s challenges, and hopeful for Reading and its residents.
Odyssey’s CBS Christmas Eve special is titled One Christmas Story: People Rich in Spirit. It celebrates the true spirit of Christmas through the words of the gospel, glorious choral music and the unique character of the community of Reading. Although based at Hope, the program includes music and traditions from a number of the ethnic groups and Christian congregations in Reading. We see the parallels between this celebration and that of the liturgy: the homeless holy family finding shelter, the wise men bringing gifts, the important role of the humble shepherds, etc. We have interwoven appropriate stories from community members that illustrate the stories of the gospel, highlighting those who have struggled and been lifted up by the support of others, those who are still in the struggle but find hope in their community, and those who work to help their fellow citizens and their city.
The program also has attracted a special donation to alleviate poverty in Reading from the Collegiate Churches of New York.
Odyssey Networks thanks CBS and the Collegiate Churches of New York for getting the ball rolling on this inspirational message for humanity, emanating from the story of the birth of Christ, making it immediate and relevant. We hope people everywhere will view this special production. So tune in this Christmas Eve on your CBS affiliate at 11:35 p.m., ET/PT. This will be a story of the hope that Jesus Christ brings to us all, at Christmas and always, in Reading and everywhere.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers