In my last column, I mentioned the outrageous sums people spend to celebrate Christmas by extravagant giving to one another, especially children, as well as alternative fundraising efforts by our faith community. Today’s column features fresh updates and reader comments about giving, plus some brief Advent music thoughts.
Advent Music Miscues
Advent began on Nov. 30 and many churches, including mainlines, began singing Christmas carols, just as the commercial radio stations commenced broadcasting them too. Traditionally, Advent is considered a mini-Lent, a symbolic period of hopeful watching and waiting for Jesus’ birth. Under this tradition, hymnody is restrained and songs such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” and “O Come, Divine Messiah,” are used. Unfortunately, many churches unabashedly burst into carol singing as if Christmas had already arrived, echoing the offensive commercial push that makes Christmas happen from before Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Part of what makes the Christmas season unique, religiously, is observing a period of looking and longing for the Messiah. To make it an accomplished fact seems to play into the hands of commercialism. Ultimately, by Christmas Eve, many are sick and tired of the sacred and secular Christmas music of the season.
Readers Voice Advent Concerns
One reader comments, “While I have donated years of cash payroll deductions to support charitable organizations, I don’t think it helps our children learn the life lessons of charity. My girls baked cookies, turkeys, vegetables, etc., to take to the shelter. The joy and excitement they felt was real, the handshakes and smiles of homeless patrons was real.”
I recall my parents taking their four children to hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, and church events to actively participate in sharing the joys of Advent with those in need. Toys were minor considerations. Our real needs and those of others were paramount.
Last Sunday I attended four events in our faith community, three of which I mentioned in last week’s column.
Baxter Road Bible Church Service
I like this Bible-based church, and its friendly members. Rev. Bob Mather’s message on Sunday dwelt on the key themes of Christmas. As he observed, “It’s all about surrender.” When the offering was taken, Mather noted this was the fourth year all December offerings would be given directly to charity. BRBC confidently believes this year will push them up over $250,000 given over the past four years.
Attending the Mitzvah Mall was more fun than writing about it. Congregation Beth Sholom opened their synagogue from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday to 24 local nonprofit organizations with primary interests in our area. The few exceptions were Malawi Children’s Village and Helping Hand for Nepal, locally based but outwardly oriented. Nothing was sold. Donations were given, many in the names of others, to fund these organizations. I peeked at some of the checks being written and they were substantial. It was a crazy good time seeing the vibrant energy flowing from this event. Over $15,000 was given to these organizations in those 3 hours. I checked out every nonprofit and discovered some new to me. One great idea I learned was the concept of Tzedakah money. Each week the Jewish youth bring this Tzedakah (charity) money to Religious School where it is pooled. When Mitzvah Mall rolls around, the money is split up and given back to individual youth as Mitzvah Bucks which they spend for those organizations where they believe the money will do the most good. Congregation Beth Sholom transfers the money to those organizations, and is also willing to talk about their Tzedakah program with other faith organizations that might want to start their own youth giving initiatives. What a wonderful energizing way to involve the youth in giving to charity!
First Presbyterian Church Alternative Gift Market
Arriving at First Presbyterian Church Sunday afternoon, just as they were closing, I had an opportunity to observe this new event. Approximately 10 “vendors” were there with holiday gift items. Bean’s Café was there with soups and coffee as was the Downtown Soup Kitchen. The Apparent Project had well-crafted handmade Haitian items for sale. The group’s purpose is to help parents take care of their kids, avoiding relinquishment and abandonment. I’m sure this event will grow next holiday season.
First and Samoan United Methodist Church free community dinner
These two congregations provided a tasty dinner for all called “A Place at the Table.” Served buffet style in the fellowship room of First United Methodist Church, many meals were gladly enjoyed, a great number by homeless and street people. It was a meaningful event for me personally as I met two delightful members with separate personal missions, which you’ll read about later.
Downtown Soup Kitchen connection
As a result of last week’s article, Sherrie Laurie, executive director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen, introduced her organization to me. This remarkable organization provides daily soup meals, showers, and clothing to many underserved residents of Anchorage. For years, ChangePoint and City Church have provided heavy lifting for this great organization, a load now being shared by 27 congregations in our faith community. BP, ConocoPhillips, and the Boy Scouts of America are also huge supporters of Downtown Soup Kitchen, as are hundreds of volunteers. In their beautiful new facility, they feed 350-500 people daily, provide showers for 400 people per month, do more than 300 loads of laundry, and distribute more than 700 pieces of clothing. All of this is supported by more than 1,800 monthly volunteer hours. Currently they’re distributing about 350 backpacks, purchased for $20 by individual donors who then fill them appropriately with supplies for men or women. For a truly worthy cause, I suggest putting Downtown Soup Kitchen on your giving list.
Personally, I’m cheered by this faith community outpouring for those in need. Clearly, I’ve not covered all local projects and fundraising but I’m rewarded to mention these and have a personal opportunity to be a part of giving to these worthy organizations. Keep those stories coming in directly to firstname.lastname@example.org so they can be included in future columns.