Monthly Archives

December 2017

Nashville

It’s not over. Sure, the Tour has concluded. We’ve gone back to our homes. The truck will be repurposed for something else. December 25th has passed.

BUT CHRISTMAS ISN’T OVER.

Our Tour stop in Nashville-Brentwood, Tennessee, coincided with collections for Roundup for Nolensville and the Shayne Elementary School feeding program. I wish I could tell you how many families were provided for that day. It was a lot. We filled a U-Haul truck and several cars with donations. The generosity was moving.

Even more moving was the joy inspired by the acts of generosity. The people giving were giddy to give. But as I write this (two days later), the goods collected are being moved into the hands of those who need them. The joy of the moment isn’t over. It’s still going… it may even be snowballing.

I think that’s what Christmas is meant to do. We weren’t given the gift of God’s presence at the first Christmas in order to have a holiday that would inspire people once a year. We are to be perpetually inspired to acts of goodness and to continually show concern for one another.

Maybe that thought hits to the heart of the meaning of Christmas for you, too. Christmas isn’t a date on the calendar, or even an event. Christmas is a state of being. It is God with us in compassion, generosity, and concern. Christmas means we share compassion, generosity, and concern with each other.

May that experience not end.

Thanks to all who made our final stop in Nashville so memorable! Our volunteers from The Village Church, Home Church, and United Methodist Communications braved dropping temps to work in generosity. Max, Dale, and the team from Street Factory Media put in long hours to make all of our stops possible. We are forever grateful to all who shared this experience with us!

–Ryan Dunn

Huntsville

What happens when Jack Frost chills your body? You want to experience warmth, right? On this cold, rainy, dreary morning want for warmth marked every step of the movie goers and last-minute Christmas shoppers at Bridge Street.

Volunteers from Asbury and St. Peter’s United Methodist Churches, Northeast District Superintendent Tom Parrish, and the North Alabama Conference Communications Director, Danette Banish, quickly sought to radiate warmth to each passerby offering “would you like free hot cocoa today?”

Some stopped and welcomed the warm greetings and cup of cocoa while others scurried to their destinations. Undeterred by the weather, Betty, Soma and Pastor Danny gathered serving tray after serving tray of hot cocoa warming many through their kindness.

Ben a volunteer from Asbury seemed to know everyone crossing his path. He greeted his friends and strangers with a sincerity and comradeship. His children and wife moved throughout the mall inviting enjoyment of free cocoa.

If you were Christmas shopping and someone asked, “would you like to join us giving shoppers hot cocoa?”, how would you respond?

Asbury UMC already had volunteers serving. But, as  their fellow member, Caren Hosmer, heard this invitation – she accepted with an emphatic “yes!” Caren’s genuine love for people and infectious spirit embraced all whom she encountered.

The Huntsville volunteers created a space of hospitality and folks freely responded to questions of Christmas: its meaning, favorite memories, etc.

Brittany and her husband decided Christmas is absent of Santa Clause and it’s true meaning is about Jesus Christ, love, giving and sharing.

Ron, a retired Army recruiter, offered that Christmas is about family and spreading joy.

Samantha shared this Christmas would be difficult because of financial struggles but her faith in Jesus was her guiding post.

Mike remembered a Christmas when his daughter experienced snow for the first time and watching the excitement she exuded while making a snow woman.

Tristan laughed as she recalled the time when her puppy took her grandmother’s gift and ran with it throughout the house as her grandmother chased him.

As the morning gave way to afternoon, the earlier chill was less prominent and more people seemed to embrace both the offer of hot cocoa and invitation to conversation.

Today, I witnessed the Christmas story unfold…a cold world – a people in need of the warming of their souls (relationship with God), a willingness to share hot cocoa (Jesus born among us), accepting the free gift of hot cocoa (salvation), retelling of a (your) story (creating community-Church).

Leaving me to wonder, does spreading the warmth of the Christmas season have to end after Christmas Day?

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children…” Galatians 4:4-5

–Marcus Singleton

Atlanta-Roswell

The wonder of Christmas might be based in the element of surprise.

Surprise seemed to permeate our Roswell, Georgia, experience. We arrived at the site and to our surprise our reserved parking spots were occupied. We entered, Pastis Restaurant to ask for hot water and the owner Carla Dent expressed surprise by our freely sharing hot cocoa. The volunteers from Chapel Roswell and the North Georgia Conference eagerly set out to surprise all whom they encountered. Our four-legged friends experienced surprise while tasting the sweetness of their special whip cream cup.

In Roswell, we had the pleasure of connecting with business owners, employees of local restaurants, residents and people visiting Roswell/Atlanta who expressed – you guessed it – surprise that we were traveling from city to city just to share hot cocoa.

To our surprise a familiar looking being stopped by, could he be?

 

 

Think about the Christmas season. . .we spend the month waiting and anticipating what we hope to receive. In some cases, we never imagined what we unwrapped in a beautifully-bowed box. In that moment, a range of feelings surge through us – vulnerability, excitement, gratitude, appreciation, love. . .

Watching your family member, friend or stranger unwrap the gift you presented, you experience similar emotions because careful thought preceded this moment. You hoped and anticipated this wrapped gift would offer revelation of your appreciation and love for the receiver. Exclamations of Oh! Ah! OMG! Thank you! spark and confirm within you – Mission Accomplished!!!

In Roswell, Brad’s story captured this thought. I listened to Brad share his favorite Christmas memory and I imagined him inwardly and triumphantly saying Mission Accomplished! Brad’s favorite memory, “Going away to a cabin in the mountains with my then girlfriend’s family and asking her father for permission to marry his daughter, Lisa.  I remember being nervous as I waited for the right moment to approach Lisa’s father.” Brad shared his sense of vulnerability, anticipation, appreciation and love as Lisa’s dad granted him permission and welcomed him into the family.

Imagine, Mary’s sense of surprise when the angel said to her – “Don’t be afraid, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

This gift of surprise is a life changer. . .our stop in Roswell, GA reminds us to create opportunities for surprise. “Don’t be afraid!” We look forward to hearing you say – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

–Marcus J. Singleton

Knoxville

What a wonderful way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas!

Columbia

Gifts. Let’s be honest, when we think about Christmas, our thoughts often turn to gifts. We fantasize about what gifts we might receive. We feel some tension about getting gifts for others.

We celebrate Christmas with exchanging gifts because of the gift we’ve all received through Christmas: that being the gift of God’s presence in Jesus.

Our Tour team showed up in Columbia to give the gift of presence. Instead, we experienced the gift of presence and community.

Omri shuttling hot cocoa.

As soon as we began setting up the truck for our hot cocoa stand outside EdVenture, the skies opened up in rain. It was just a drizzle, it was sheets of rain. This was beginning to feel like a miserable event. But our new friends at EdVenture said “come on inside!” They supplied tables, a dry location inside their lobby, and lots of children eager for a cup of hot cocoa. Throughout the event, staff from EdVenture stopped by to thank us for being there. Little did they know, we were truly the one’s who were thankful to have a safe, dry location and people to share community with.

One act of generosity begat another… and another… and another. EdVenture’s invitation to share their space inspired our us to provide cocoa to their day campers. There was Omri, who shuttled a couple hundred cups of cocoa through the rain to help make that happen. There were the camp counselor’s who kept the event organized and made sure every child got her or his fill. The concession stand attendants provided hot water and extra cambrios for our cocoa. The volunteers from Shandon, Washington Street and East Camden United Methodist Churches along with Epworth Children’s Home provided umbrellas and toppings for hot cocoa perfection. One act of goodness inspired another act which seemed to inspire another act… and so on…

Perhaps that’s what God had in mind when God provided the gift of presence two thousand years ago.

Charleston SC

Where did winter go? We lost it in Charleston, South Carolina. December 19 was unseasonably warm, even for Charleston. While the warm temperature made hot cocoa a bit less appealing, it sure did allow us to appreciate the beauty of the city. It was a bit tough to leave Charleston, honestly. The persistent invitations from our new friends in Charleston to check out some of their sites and establishments before leaving town were tempting.

It’s tough to leave Charleston.

Mayor Tecklenburg stopped by for a cup of cocoa.

Charleston is a growing city. And it’s certainly not a city without problems. There’s economic divide, tensions, and homelessness. Many homeless have gathered in a tent city–much like other communities. When Mayor John Tecklenburg took office, he was aware of the tent city in Charleston. He told us so when he stopped by the hot cocoa stand (it was our first mayoral visit). In recognizing the issues surrounding tent city, city leaders felt it was time to do something about tent city–not simply clear it out, but to find permanent housing for those residing in tent city. It’s tough to leave Charleston.

So they founded the Homeless to Hope Fund. The Fund provides resources for rapid re-housing and life assistance. It also draws community together in providing for and creating awareness around the community’s most vulnerable. It’s drawing the community together–which was obvious from the generosity of those who came out to the cocoa stand just to drop off donations.

Our team is thankful for the hospitality extended by volunteers from Trinity, Wesley, Asbury-St. James, Bethel, Centenary, Mt. Carmel, Old Bethel United Methodist Churches. We hope the Spirit of closeness inspired by God’s presence in Jesus at Christmas continues to inspire a sense of closeness in Charleston and beyond.

Greenville

Where do you go at Christmastime?

“Christmas” and “home” often get placed together. We sing songs about going home for Christmas. How many movies take place in the setting of a family “coming home”?

Do you go “home” at Christmastime? Where is “home” for you? What is “home”?

My little family and I lived in Greenville, North Carolina, for many years. I didn’t grow up there. I was well into adulthood when we moved there. But I still had a lot of growing to do when we arrived in Greenville. I matured quite a bit through our years in Greenville. My wife, son, and I had no other familial connections when we moved there. But when we left we suffered (are suffering) the pain of leaving family.

So it was pretty sweet that the True Meaning of Christmas Tour provided me the opportunity to go back to Greenville. It was a bit of a homecoming… even though Greenville is no longer “home”. Even though I’ve called other places “home” through much of my life.

Yet there was a sense of “home” in returning to Greenville. Why?

The majority of volunteers we worked with in Greenville were people I knew. There was a sense of warmth shared with our Greenville people. There was comfort. There was also vulnerability–I don’t feel pressure to be “perfect” in front of those folks, because they know I’m not perfect and love me just the same.

In other words, I feel comfortable to just be me amidst my old friends in Greenville.

Home might be where people feel a freedom  to “just do you”.

This is what makes what we celebrate at Christmas so extraordinary: God made God’s home among us. God established home in the midst of humanity. We got to see what God is truly like. And God shared in the full human experience, seeing us for who we really are.

At Christmas, we celebrate God entering into the world. We also remember that God has an understanding of what it means to be human. God sees us as we truly are and loves us just the same.

The volunteers worked hard to share some closeness in Greenville. They filled several bins with food for the Food Bank of Eastern North Carolina. They played some inviting, familiar Christmas music. They handed out about 350 cups of hot cocoa. And they connected with a lot more people.

Thanks so much to the people of Third Street AcademySt James, Salem, and Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Churches for supplying so many with a feeling of home.

Virginia Beach

Can you imagine standing in a sea of Santa Clauses? That’s where we found ourselves on the Unwrap the True Meaning of Christmas Tour stop in Virginia Beach. We parked the truck at the Surf-N-Santa Five Miler, not to find the real Santa – our mission was to engage in conversation and share cocoa. We were in the middle of a huge party, a thousand + Santas just finished running, the music blaring, people eating and drinking… it was a vibrant and festive scene. The volunteers from The [email protected] Memorial arrived ready to reach the gathered Santas. Brandon, Debra, Justine, Mackenzie and Marta matched the energy filling the room, mingling with approaching guests and filing through the audience, serving them hot cocoa.

While Christmas is a wonderful time of year, a large segment of people experience the pangs of loneliness. Such was Teresa’s story. Because Teresa doesn’t have any family here, she planned to travel to Peru. Debra invited her to visit their church when she returns. Did you know that according to Outreach Magazine,55% say they would attend church if invited by a family member and 51% would attend if invited by a friend or neighbor?”

During the Surf-N-Santa event, a couple of people were curious about the difference between Methodist, Baptist and other denominations. We encountered an interesting intersection of theology, Santa Claus, beer and hot cocoa. Church leaders shouldn’t assume people are aware of theology. However, their questions suggest that people have an interest in knowing.

Scott’s plan to drive to Canada to surprise his mother for Christmas is heartwarming. When asked his favorite memory of Christmas, Scott said the year when his mother and he spent hours just talking, learning family history, and taking time to show appreciation for everything his mom had done for him.

In this age of technology, perhaps we should unplug and connect with our loved ones, even strangers. This year, let’s take the time to learn more about our family life together and share our appreciation for family members.

The Gospel of Matthew chapter 1 tells Jesus’ family and birth history. Chapter 2:1-12 gives an account of traveling and showing appreciation to someone you adore.

This Christmas learn new family stories and share new thank you’s. Like Scott, this can become our most favorite memory of Christmas.

–Marcus J. Singleton

Washington DC

Christmas is a time of year when we witness the best in humanity. Just as the Unwrap the True Meaning of Christmas Tour has united churches, communities and non-profit organizations to meet the basic needs of people experiencing tough times, we see an increase in charitable efforts during the Christmas season. Like most people, I too would agree these acts highlight the goodwill of people.

In Washington, D.C. as I talked with the volunteers from Mount Vernon Place and Asbury United Methodist Churches while observing the happenings in Chinatown, a greater need became apparent. . .

Inclusion.

In our culture, we emphasize and too often celebrate the great divide(s) whereby we separate and determine whose life has value. I thought about this as Shawn (who doesn’t have a mailing address) asked me to call his case worker. I thought about this while listening to Pastor Donna share about her welcoming and reconciling ministry. Watching a man under the influence of what seemed a hallucinogenic drug. . . and seeing a friend who is a power broker within the city. I wondered will we ever close this gap.

This divide, this chaos, is where Jesus entered and desires to enter to include all people: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

This sign in a restaurant near the Unwrap Christmas truck pointed to ways in which the great divide can become inclusive:

Perhaps questions, we might ask ourselves and others is: am I extending judgment or am I offering a path to salvation? At Christmastime, we seem in tune to our higher angels and we have an opportunity to turn chaos to connectivity to God’s more perfect way: Love and Inclusion.

While drinking her cocoa, Tracy (a writer) said: “I’m a pessimist by nature and don’t really get along with my family, but during Christmas as I spend time with them, I become hopeful.”

Tracy may have given us another clue to shifting the great divide – spending time with people with whom we are different and disagree (spiritually, racially, gender, politically, economically, etc.).

This restaurant makes a Gospel-esque statement – “Everyone is Welcome”.  Will you make it true in your family, your community, your church, in your sphere of influence?

— Marcus J. Singleton

Ebensburg

We often hear or cite the separation of church and state when it comes to discussing religion or matters of faith , but is it acceptable for people of faith to share hot cocoa, joy, compassion and hope in governmental spaces? Absolutely!

Today, after 7 inches of snow had covered Ebensburg, PA, and with temperatures in the low teens and people determined to remain indoors, we thought, “what would Jesus do?”

We could hear Jesus urging:  Go to the people I say unto you. 

Thus, we entered the courthouse not with religion but the peace, hospitality and love of the One who came among us. Walking through the courthouse and entering offices with serving trays of hot cocoa, our volunteers were met with gratitude and surprise when they said the hot cocoa was free and it’s for you.

One employee, inspired the generosity, escorted us to every known office. She even ushered us to some obscure places within the courthouse to ensure everyone had the opportunity to experience the joy and hot cocoa we were sharing.

A clerk from the Prothonotary Office said, “Don’t forget that for me Christmas means, family, giving and the birth of our savior.”

Renee, a law office administrative assistant, captured the Ebensburg, PA experience with her meaning of Christmas: “The closer I get to Christ (living the Gospel) the more Christmas means to me. Because Christ is the key to unlocking the door to peace, love and harmony.”

Yes, proximity is the invitation of the Gospel and God’s love is without limits or barriers. So “Heedless of the wind and weather”, we decked the courthouse halls and surrounding businesses with joy and cups of hot cocoa served with the Spirit of Love, Peace and Compassion.