Friday, December 16, 2011

Being Lost at Christmas

After ten years of as pastor at Spirit of Hope, Christmas has a distinct rhythm.  It goes something like this:

In early November we start receiving three or four calls a day from those seeking Thanksgiving or Christmas food baskets.  By Thanksgiving the donations are coming in and the food pantry is bursting at the seams.  Community is built by a big food organizing and packing party, and we begin the Advent countdown to December 25th.

The first Sunday of Advent the large wreath is hung, hanging on 75 feet of chains from the tower into the center of the sanctuary nave.  The second week the wreaths go up around the walls.  By the third week the tree and lights are added.  Music begins to shift to the same Christmas songs that are heard on the radio, and we make sure we have enough candles for Christmas Eve Candlelight (6 p.m.!).

More coats are handed out as the cold creeps into our Michigan December, and the donations of heavy clothes, especially men’s sweatshirts, jeans and coats begin to roll in.  As soon as they arrive they are distributed to the community.

Saturday Community Kitchen becomes a place of Christmas carols, hygiene kits and care packages from partner churches all over Southeast Michigan.  The number of those served goes up as we become a neighborhood source for a wealth of small items necessary for daily life.  Every now and then we are also privileged to distribute some luxuries: aftershave, perfume, and just-out-of-style hats and ties. 

And one more thing happens in my ministry, the pastor’s ministry: the search for the lost.  We are not talking about the spiritually or emotionally lost, but those who have physically disappeared.  By mid-December there are already three gone, but two of them found so far.  

Many people become lost from our community.  Sometimes it is a good thing:  A sister or brother has found a leg up, has a new opportunity and has moved on.  We rejoice over those victories.  At other times, people become lost because they can no longer afford the heat in their building.   Perhaps an elder died at the hospital, but because they had no family we never heard when or why.  I’ll never forget the first time I experienced losing someone who froze to death in our neighborhood, my first January at Spirit of Hope. 

Most commonly, a community member will enter the hospital, or move.  Phone numbers change or a phone becomes too expensive.  One year we lost a transgender sister who went into the hospital.  The hospital listed her by her birth name that was on her identification.  We did not know that name, so could not find her.  Thankfully she healed and showed back up again. 

While the rhythm of placing wreaths and the tree have become routine, the rhythm of losing people still disturbs me.  “Where are you?!”  Praise God that we search for each other.  Even better, God decided to stop waiting for us to find her, and instead arrived in our neighborhood in the form of a baby who looks like us, feels like us, and lives like us.  If God can find us, we will keep finding each other at Spirit of Hope.  Peace, power and joy.

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