Presents or presence? Gifts that matter
By Susan Passi-Klaus, UMNS What if we just stop? Stop the madness.
Stop the frustrating pursuit of the perfect present. Stop shopping until we drop. Stop trying to &#x201C;people please&#x201D; through gift giving. What if we spend less, but give more, love more? And here&#x2019;s a thought. What if we use the holidays to worship God more fully?
Those are questions posed by a grass- roots group known as the Advent Con- spiracy. They&#x2019;ve partnered with more than 1,000 churches &#x2014; more than 300 of them United Methodist &#x2014; in 17 countries to change the way the world does Christ- mas and the way the world gives presents or ... presence. &#x201C;We&#x2019;re not trying to kill the idea of giving gifts,&#x201D; said Ken Weigel, pastor of ministry development at Imago Dei Com- munity in Portland, Ore. The nondenomi- national congregation is one of the found- ing churches of the Advent Conspiracy. &#x201C;What we&#x2019;re saying is that instead of buy- ing your kid the XBOX, buy him a base- ball mitt, and yourself a mitt, and actually make a commitment to your son to play catch regularly.&#x201D;
Or, suggested Weigel, give a friend or family member a couple of mugs and a pound of coffee with a note that says, &#x201C;This coffee is for when we sit down and talk because what I want to do this year is spend more time with you.&#x201D; Called &#x201C;relational giving,&#x201D; it&#x2019;s an im-
portant tenet of Advent Conspiracy&#x2019;s phi- losophy.
&#x201C;We&#x2019;ve got to re-examine this weird idea of saying &#x2018;I love you equals X amount of money,&#x2019;&#x201D; he said. &#x201C;What ev- eryone really wants is to be loved and to have time with the people they love. No- body lies on their deathbed and says, &#x2018;I wish I had more toys.&#x2019;&#x201D; In fact, Weigel believes it&#x2019;s a relief to most people when they finally let go of their grandiose expectations of both giv- ing and receiving over the holidays. &#x201C;Just look at Black Friday. We spent the entire day before giving thanks, and then the next day we go crazy going af- ter things we&#x2019;ve convinced ourselves we need. What if we just stopped the con- sumerism? What if we just said we actu- ally have the things we really need&#x2014;we don&#x2019;t need another sweater or another set of screwdrivers.&#x201D; Parents can lead by example and model giving to kids.
&#x201C;Say the family has an extra $200 they
had planned to spend on a Wii, but the neighbors don&#x2019;t have heat, or the home- less don&#x2019;t have food, or a family at church doesn&#x2019;t have Christmas gifts. Do we want to give the neighbors heat, or the home- less a few meals, or the family who is down on their luck some stuff they need . . . or do we go buy the Wii?
&#x201C;Somewhere along the way, kids have got to get the message, &#x2018;Let&#x2019;s stop wor- shipping the idol of consumerism and ac- tually start looking at Jesus and the gift God gave us in giving him.&#x201D; On a recent Sunday at East Cobb UMC in Marietta, Ga., Rev. Brian Germano asked his parishioners to &#x201C;give more of yourselves.&#x201D;
&#x201C;God didn&#x2019;t give us things,&#x201D; Germano preached. &#x201C;He gave us himself so we should give gifts that do the same&#x2014;give of ourselves and give gifts that celebrate a relationship.&#x201D;
&#x201C;Buy one less gift, and the money you save on that one less gift can then be used for gifts that matter like helping a needy family, or filling a care package for some- one, or helping with a mission project.&#x201D;
For the full story, visit http://tinyurl. com/UMNS120910
The United Methodist Church in Panguma, Sierra Leone, was destroyed by rebels in the late 1990s during the eleven-year civil war. Wood roof rafters and pews were used by the rebels for firewood. In February 2010, Camp Hill UMC, in partnership with the Panguma church since 2009, sent an eight-member mission team to Panguma with supplies and financial resources to rebuild the church and revitalize the village.
Susquehanna LINK - January/February 2011 Better Together
What if people of all faith traditions came together on an issue that was hurting many people in our world? Poverty.
Domestic Violence. Search behind each faith tradition and there is a ba- sic rule of God: Love one another. At the end of October, the White House Office for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Interfaith Youth Core hosted fifty campus ministry leaders and one hundred students from around the na- tion. The purpose was to ask the big questions and then make a plan to impact our campuses (and eventually the nation) through faith in action. As the Director of Religious Life and Community Services at Dickin- son College, I and Sara Boyer, a se- nior student working in the Religious Life office, were privileged to be in- vited.
National events have brought me-
dia attention to the continued division among people of many faith tradi- tions and the communities that have divided over places of worship. In President Obama&#x2019;s trip to Indonesia, he pointed to their motto, &#x201C;Unity in Diversity,&#x201D; and the U.S. motto, &#x201C;Out of Many, One,&#x201D; shows that pluralism is essential to lead in this new cen-
By Rev. Mira Hewlett tury.
Throughout the conference, we met people of many faith traditions and were empowered to share our faith stories, not as representatives of all Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or humanists). We learned how beneath it all, together we all care about our communities, want to worship our God (even if in different forms), and through empowering college students they would inspire others to join this transformation. In the spring semester, Dickinson College will be host to events entitled &#x201C;Better Together.&#x201D; Our focus will be on the issue of hunger, both locally by serving at the town food bank, and then globally by partnering with Stop Hunger Now to package 25,000 meals for those in need internation- ally. Our goal is to serve as one com- munity, coming from all faith and non-faith backgrounds, to strengthen our nation and our understanding of each other. Better Together &#x2026; we can only start to change our world when we know we serve because it&#x2019;s our way to love God, when we focus on changing our neighborhoods, and partner with those like and unlike us, because God&#x2019;s community is filled with everyone.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MIRA HEWLETT
Rev. Mira Hewlett (left), Director of Religious Life and Community Services, and neuroscience major Sara Boyer of Bethlehem, Pa., represented Dickin- son College at the White House&#x2019;s inaugural Interfaith Youth Core Leadership Institute conference in Washington, D.C.
Partnership celebrates African church By Phileas Jusu* Out of the rubble of civil war, a rehabili-
tated church stands as a symbol of peace and hope. And that is a reason to celebrate &#x2013; for Muslims and Christians in this violence- plagued nation and for a group of United Methodists from the United States who helped make it possible. On Nov. 21, United Methodists from as far away as Camp Hill, Pa., joined Chris- tians and Muslims in the African nation to dedicate the Lower Bambara United Meth- odist Church.
Market women neatly attired in their blue, yellow, and green Ghanaian-styled Kente uniforms stood next to community elders and politicians, including Sierra Leone&#x2019;s ambassador to the United States, filling the 200-seat church to twice its ca- pacity. Still more people sat on benches outside the church. Inside, participants danced in circles on the glittering silver-and-gold-colored marble tiled floor of the church, praising God in Mende: &#x201C;Ndoma neneh ndomah ile, Yesu pia wor a nge; I hai lor nya va, nya beh nga ha lor ngi va.&#x201D; The English trans- lation is, &#x201C;Christ loved me so much that he died for me. I will in turn love him forever
The joy transcended all boundaries. &#x201C;It&#x2019;s a day that I will never forget &#x2014; a day filled with much joy and celebration,&#x201D; said Fred Clark, who led a delegation of five people from Camp Hill United Meth- odist Church to witness the celebration. &#x201C;On our first trip here, we saw that the church had been desecrated by the rebels. And now to see it in its refurbished state is very rewarding.&#x201D; Labors of love Panguma, a once-prosperous commu- nity endowed with diamonds, coffee and timber, became a target for rebels during the civil war. They burned the town in the late 1990s and camped in the church, us- ing pews for firewood. Power lines were torn out.
Many of the houses ruined by the war
lie empty after homeowners fled the area. The war ended in 2002, and many trauma- tized residents vowed never to go back to Panguma.
But not the church. &#x201C;When it rained, the choir and the pas- tor would all cram in one place and would be struggling for where the church was not leaking. Why: because our own brothers came here and were shooting bullets all over the place,&#x201D; Bishop John Yambasu re- called during the rededication service. The rehabilitation of the church was done in partnership with Camp Hill United
Methodist, which raised more than $30,000 and sent work teams to Sierra Leone. Only love, compassion and passion for
the work of God would give the Camp Hill United Methodists the spirit to have done such wonders, Yambasu said. Looking to the future
The partnership is only beginning. Camp Hill plans to continue both to work on community projects in Panguma and nurture the bond between the people of the two nations, Clark said. &#x201C;It&#x2019;s just hard to believe that God would
use me to be an instrument for him to see the completion of the work,&#x201D; Clark said at the end of the celebration. &#x201C;My prayer is that this would provide hope for the people here in the village that will see that we are able to start with the church and move from there.&#x201D;
Yambasu also marveled at the speed with which the ministry is growing. Quoting Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Yambasu said, &#x201C;Every generation has its peculiari- ties and challenges, but God is so gracious that for every generation, he always raises men and women whom he can use to re- spond to the challenges of their times.&#x201D;
*Jusu is a United Methodist communicator based in Sierra Leone.
PHOTOS: UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE
The rebuilt church was renamed Lower Bambara United Methodist Church (to serve the region, not just the village) and rededicated in November 2010, with three members of the February mission team joining the celebration.
Rev. Brian Sweeney (left), pastor of Camp Hill United Methodist Church, and Amadu Ndoeka, president of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration for the newly renamed Lower Bambara United Methodist Church, exchange a greeting.
Learn more about the United Methodist Church at www.umc.org
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