Chrismons—white tree ornaments in symbols of the faith—allow the senses of sight, word, thought and wonder to comprehend the grace and peace offered to us through the origins of the Christian story. Many congregations decorate a tree with them now. Perhaps yours? I grew up in the small Lutheran church where Chrismons were created, and I knew Frances Spencer who started it all.
Frances Kipps was the child of Lutheran missionaries to Japan who eventually settled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She came to Danville, Va., in the 1930s, the bride of Harry Spencer. Harry worked in the tobacco industry as a middleman, and Frances clerked in a downtown store. They were members of Ascension Lutheran Church, where my family belonged.
I've never forgotten that moment. And through the years since, I've marveled at how the Chrismon Christian message spread internationally to nearly 170 nations from a woman who couldn't attend seminary or even serve on church council.
Even as a small boy I knew that Frances Spencer longed to have a child. I remember my parents talking about it, but quietly, in a language of respect.
Here is Frances' story: In early January 1957 when she had finished taking down the ornaments on the Christmas tree in her home, she was feeling quite melancholy. Looking at the empty tree and pondering the emptiness of the world and her wish for a child, what did Frances do? As her Lutheran pastor father had taught her, she began to pray. "God, if I were Mary and Jesus were my child, how would I decorate this empty tree?"
God's answer came. And Frances began to work. She made dozens of ornaments depicting the symbols of Christ that we call Chrismons. That next December there was one Chrismon tree in the world—and it was in our little church.
Today there are many thousands. Through Frances, Lutherans have been able to convey Christ's message of grace, hope, peace, compassion and the love of all to many people, cultures and countries.
And to me. Every Christmas Eve I look at the tree in my current church, Christ the King Lutheran, Cary, N.C., and see the different Chrismons against the tree's sharp green and the radiance of the white lights. But more, the Chrismon tree shows me a mother's love for her child. I see Mary with Jesus, and then I hear the language of Frances' prayer. With faith, I know her gift was received by God.
I know her gift has been shared. In fact, she had the Chrismons design copyrighted through Ascension.
Now, more than 30 years after her death, Frances' prayer is answered with each Chrismon placed on every Christmas tree—as the ornaments tell of God's love for us in Jesus.
This week's front page features:On our two-way street of faith: (right) International exchanges strengthen churches.
Also: Lutheran LEGO guy.
The Little Lutheran
(for children 6 and younger)
The Little Christian
(for children 6 and younger)
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers