The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Some have entertained angels

Have you ever had one of those ideas that when you say it people look at you like you’re crazy?

A few years ago, I told the congregation’s church council: “I am planning a Christmas giveaway.”

I explained that people would choose gifts for each member of their family. The gifts would be new, and the church would provide wrapping materials, live music and refreshments. “And I think our target number should be about 1,000 people, which means we need between 3,000 and 5,000 gifts,” I added.

They looked at me like I was crazy.

And that is how a ministry begins.

We started to call in a variety of churches. In the end, several ELCA churches were involved: St. Paul in Ironton, All Saints in Worthington, Resurrection in Hilliard, Trinity in Marion, all in Ohio, as well as Irving Park in Chicago.

We were able to involve the business community by applying for, and receiving, a grant from the Hasbro toy company, which agreed to provide 250 toys.

Our focus was not to hand out gifts. Our goal was to instill a little dignity into people’s lives.

So we made some decisions. We decided not to require any proof of income from recipients. We decided that each person in the family could pick out gifts for every other person in the family. We decided that they would be able to wrap each gift so they wouldn’t just receive a box with an unknown present and a tag such as “male 3-5.”

But these decisions didn’t come without disagreements.

“How can we just give stuff away?”

“We need to place a limit.”

“There is no way this is going to work!”

These comments were from the faithful who were working on the project. The clergy began to discuss how the project would be possible. All began to state their objections.

The day before the giveaway, thousands of gifts took shape in piles sorted by age and gender. Hasbro toys from California arrived at a Gahanna dock. But we discovered we were short on gifts for older people. We had received cash donations and needed people to go out to spend it the night before the giveaway. Crisis became chaos.

And this is how ministry begins.

At 6:30 a.m. the next day, I looked out the window of the parsonage. With my first cup of coffee in hand, I noticed that a line had already formed in the freezing rain.

At 10 a.m., we gathered for a moment of devotion. We remembered that Hebrews 13 tells us that we will unknowingly entertain angels. We were reminded that where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he will be also.

By the end of the day, 675 people had gone home with 3,200 gifts. The 60 volunteers were tired.

But we had heard the comments about how wonderful it was to be treated with care and respect. We had heard the stories about how this year, Christmas will be a little different for families.

We had entertained angels. We had seen the risen Christ, face-to-face. The next year we gave away 5,000 gifts to 1,000 people.

If we can do this, what is the next level that will stretch our imagination? Are you crazy?

This week's front page features:

Andrena, 'set free': ELCA candidate for ordination lives with faith and HIV. (Photo at right.)

Blue Christmas: Special service offers holiday hope for the hurting.

Water for Christmas: Synod gives gifts of hope at home and abroad.

Becoming 'new': One year away yields five insights on retirement.

Also: Facing lonliness.

Also: Farewell and hello.

Also: Beware the vice of fear.

Read these articles at our front page > > >

Andrena Ingram

Josselyn Bennett
Discuss faith and HIV/AIDS:

Andrena Ingram (right) is an ELCA candidate for ordination living with faith and HIV. Her journey from despair to seminary and beyond is chronicled in this month's article, "Andrena, 'set free'" by Frank Imhoff.

She'll join Josselyn Bennett (right), ELCA director for poverty ministries with Church in Society to discuss the church's response to HIV and AIDS.

The conversation starts today and continues through Dec. 12.

Consider reading "Andrena, 'set free'" before joining in.

Join the discussion > > >

Discuss depression at the holidays:

Shirley Ross-Jones is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Shively, Ky.

She'll join readers to discuss how to mark Christmas among those who are hurting, grieving, lonely or depressed during the holiday season.

The conversation starts today and continues through Dec. 12.

Join the discussion > > >

This week on our blog:

Andrea Pohlmann blogs about presents for pets.

Cindy Novak writes about how the church speaks for those without a voice.

Julie Sevig blogs about the diversity of people who gather around our tables at the holidays.

Sonia Solomonson (right) blogs about Advent waiting.

Check out our blog > > >

Share your evangelism tips:

Reader George C. Weirick challenged the staff of The Lutheran: "Tell us about programs that work, or unusual or new evangelism methods."

Send us your tips via email, with a brief description (two or three paragraphs), along with contact information for those wanting more background.

The staff will review submissions and start publishing the best as a regular item on the “Currents” pages.

Members: Respond online > > >

NEW from acclaimed Lutheran songwriter JONATHAN RUNDMAN

Jonathan Rundman has emerged as one of the most exciting and refreshing musicians in the Lutheran church. He was a featured performer at the 2006 ELCA Youth Gathering in San Antonio, and his songs have been used as event theme songs, in Augsburg Fortress educational programs and even as seminary curriculum. Rundman performs at synod assemblies, congregations, continuing education events and colleges nationwide, and his writings appear in the bestselling The Lutheran Handbook.

Now Rundman follows in the footsteps of John Ylvisaker and Marty Haugen with the release of A Heartland Liturgy, a complete liturgical setting for communion. Tapping into "heartland" sounds of rock & roll, blues, Americana and bluegrass music, Rundman has composed theologically sound, singable, and flexible liturgical songs that are playable with full rock band, campfire-style acoustic guitar or solo piano.

The songs of A Heartland Liturgy are featured on Rundman's new double-CD release PROTESTANT ROCK ETHIC.

Sheet music, piano scores, guitar chords and congregational lines are available in Rundman's new eSongbook CD-ROM.

Learn about Jonathan Rundman's work as a church resource at www.jonathanrundman.com/church.html

For song downloads, performances and contact info, visit www.jonathanrundman.com

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