This Advent season at UCCEG, we are pilgrimaging for justice in solidarity with Mary and Joseph.
As we begin our Advent journey, we learn that a census has begun in Israel. Mary and Joseph must return to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem to be counted. They embark on this journey with Mary very pregnant. Upon their arrival, they find that all the inns are filled. There is no place for them to stay.
Mary and Joseph found themselves homeless, without a place to stay. It must have been scary for them. They sought help from wherever they could find it. Thanks to the generosity and compassion of a local inkeeper, they were able to find a safe place to rest their heads while the census happened. The innkeeper offered them their stable.
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are all at the mercy of homelessness. For those of us who live paycheck to paycheck, one mis-step can bring about homelessness. One major misfortune in our lives can create such havoc that we may find ourselves seeking 'room at an inn' and being grateful that an inkeeper offers us their stable.
I will share my story here. When my previous partner and I ended our relationship, I was unemployed. I had just finished an Interim Pastorate that was abusive. I was hurting and wounded emotionally, spiritually. I knew that, in my current spiritual and emotional position, it would not be good to take another Interim. I needed time to breathe and heal. Yet, I had to move out of where my partner and I shared an apartment.
I found myself homeless. Homeless and unemployed. I did have unemployment income coming in. That meant I could either rent a studio or pay health insurance. This is actually an experience that many have in their lives.
I called two amazing friends. I asked if I could spend 6 months living on their 3rd floor so I could heal and find my next Call. After 6 months my profile was out, but no Call had come. I turned to another friend who opened their guest room to me. I was homeless, living between these two sets of friends for 18 months. I am forever grateful for them.
I am lucky. I know it. I had choices. I had friends and family who supported and helped me. Not everyone has that in their lives.
Mary and Joseph experienced homelessness. God provided a place for them in a Stable. They were blessed and cared for. Mary treasured that in her heart.
This season, one of the areas of justice that UCCEG members are pilgrimaging for is an end to homelessness. We are working with three mission partners: Old First Reformed Church of Philadelphia's Men's Shelter, Safe Harbor here in West Chester, and Family Promise of Southern Chester County. These three mission partners are 'innkeepers' for those who find themselves homeless.
For the next two weeks, this blog will highlight each of these mission partners. Today, we will highlight Old First Reformed and our Giving Tree. A member of our congregation, Cathy, and her family began this mission 4 years ago. I will let her words tell you about it:
Gratitude Is A Choice. “Gratitude is the memory of the heart,” an old French proverb by Jean Massieu. What a fitting thought for this season of Thanksgiving and Advent when all of the scriptures center around thankfulness, hope, peace, joy, Love and giving Glory to God.
Can a broken heart be grateful? The answer is yes.
Four years ago I faced the shocking loss of my beloved father after a four month battle with cancer. One moment he was there and the next, following destructive chemo that did not kill the cancer, he was gone. There I was with my broken heart facing the Thanksgiving and Advent season.
At that time my mom was cleaning out items in their home and explained that she could not use their large Christmas tree, now that my dad had passed, because it was too big and heavy for her to handle on her own. She asked if our church would like to use their beautiful tree. I spoke with my kids and asked them to brainstorm how can we use Pappy Jay’s Tree to do something good at church.
The kids all spent time during their confirmation experiences at Old First UCC in Philadelphia feeding the men who were homeless and sharing time with them. The Giving Tree was born on that day. The kids wanted to so something good to help other men who are in need, in honor of Pappy Jay.
We took a sad time, and we were able to shine light into it. With God in the center of our hearts, we reacted the only way we knew how by helping others. Our cup was so full of blessings that even in deep grief we were able to give glory to God by spreading love and kindness. Love is the response of one who knows God. The Giving Tree is a fitting symbol for God’s love. The branches are always green as God’s love is forever. The lights shine bright to remind us that we must shine our light and help others.
So as a family we got to work. We cut out ornaments, added some sparkles, called Old First to find out what the men needed. Then we set up the Giving Tree in the Narthex and told others in our church what we were doing and why. We put the message out on Facebook and we had items coming in to donate by the hundreds.
As a family we gathered, counted, sorted items, and then packed them for delivery. This delivery day has become one of our favorite parts of the mission and a wonderful family tradition. We spend the day together taking the donations for the men into the city.
Gratitude is a choice and in our house we have always said we are so blessed. This ability to put faith into action is a choice. The way that you feel in the process is better than any feeling in the world.
We invite you to join us in our Giving Tree. You can donate by using the donation button on our webpage. Designate it for the Giving Tree. We will make sure that your donation goes to the important work of justice at Old First Reformed in Philadelphia.