Beginning as a young child, I remember many of the men in our small town, my father included, getting together around Christmas to buy groceries and wrapped gifts for families less fortunate, widows, and our local orphanage.
It was not really an organized effort, per se, and really more than one group, all acting independently, but somehow the needs got met, and there was order to what should have been chaos. We were a small enough community to know who needed help, who was going through a bad time, and who needed a little joy in their lives — a show of love that showed people cared. It is not that there were not civic organizations and religious groups doing their part, but there was also a desire for a little deeper contact — to be personally engaged. Time to listen, time to speak, and maybe share a prayer. Those who gave felt that they ultimately received more than they gave.
I remember dressing up as Santa Claus and going along to help deliver “Christmas” — the Santa suits always seemed to fit my girth as though they were tailor made. I remember the freezing houses with dirt floors, the broken down porches, one room houses, with a single bed and several members of the family sleeping on floors. People with colds, flu, and other sicknesses and ailments. No money for food, No running water, no money for electricity or gas, sometimes filth — sad images of poverty deeply etched in my memory. The children only had hot food because of school lunch programs, but went hungry during Christmas break when schools were closed (which is why so much food was delivered at that time).
My mother along with other women of the Church would gather names of shut-ins, widows, the lonely, and the infirm, and divide up the names. I would be taken along by my mother and deposited at someone’s house and sent in to visit.
All of this took place at Christmas time, sure enough, but it also took place at other times as needs could be met and whenever they needed to be met. Times like the Fall, with the beginning of school. Spring, when school was let out but before gardens were up and growing. Summer as vegetables were overflowing. What amazed me were the really good people I knew for whom it was not a chore, but a great joy to share this way all year long.
Today, I know people are generous, and that government does so much of what neighbors and communities used to do. There are agencies, and civic groups and organizations, local and national, working to meet needs every day of the year. I am glad to live in a country where care and concern are codified. Yet, I fear we are in danger of losing something important at the same time, the personal touch, and the chance to see Jesus face-to-face in those to whom we reach out and share His love with… I think it is important for us to reference a real face to poverty and need, true circumstances, rather than institutionalizing and sanitizing all of our giving, all of our contact.
(Matt. 25:37-40) “Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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