Yes, Advent and Christmas are long over. But pardon us for sharing with you one last glimpse of a very special visit by a contingent of wise travelers, royalty of a sort, from the East—the Eastern PA Conference, that is. They found the Christ child’s spirit, reborn in yet another humble, unexpected place, welcoming a beloved community of various faiths.
Bishop Peggy Johnson and her conference Cabinet visited the Norristown State Hospital Tuesday morning, Dec. 17, to feast and fellowship and sing Christmas carols with patients there. They were hosted by the Rev. Robert Crane, a retired local pastor and the UM chaplain there since 2011. Bishop Johnson had led worship at the hospital in December 2018 and joined Crane in giving out Christmas cards signed by conference members and also chocolate bars to incarcerated patients there.
“I often think about where Jesus would spend Christmas,” wrote the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, South District Superintendent, who arranged the recent visit and later reflected on its heartening impact for her colleagues. “He wouldn’t be found in the commercial centers buying up more things he doesn’t really need anyway… Instead, I sense Jesus would be found in places we often don’t go.”
Taylor-Storm, who will become the conference’s new Director of Connectional Ministries in July, writes further:
As the Bishop and Cabinet shared a meal with patients at Norristown State Hospital in a forensic mental health unit, I saw a glimpse of where Jesus might hang out at Christmas. The Cabinet and the clients shared a feast of pizza pie and Milano cookies.
The Muslim Iman led us in prayer while the Rabbi wished us a Merry Christmas. I watched as the chaplains tenderly cared for the clients, helping the clients eat their meals and explaining how the day was to go. In this space, it didn’t matter what religion one professed; here, it was all about loving people, regardless of theology or ability.
After our feast, the makeshift choir began to sing. Twenty clients swayed back and forth to the music. One gentleman was so moved by the music that he rose from his chair and began conducting the choir. His hands raised higher and higher in the air with each passing note. Another client sang with gusto, not caring if he had the right words or if his notes were in tune.
Together, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, people of all abilities, we sang. Together, we caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God. We sang about dreidels and celebrated the coming of Hanukkah. We sang, too, about the coming of the baby in the manger. Our differences melted away as our voices rose in harmony.
And in the midst of it all, Jesus appeared. He visited us in the cement basement of a forensic, mental health unit where people are often forgotten. He drank iced tea and ate cold pizza right alongside us. He wiped the mouth of the man who needed help with his lunch.
See, friends, if you are seeking to find Jesus (next) Christmas, go to the places where Jesus dwells. Skip the long lines at the mall and head over to Norristown State Hospital. Or go to a State Nursing Home. In these marginal places, Christ is born.
Look for Jesus in those outside of our faith, too, for you will often find him in the face of a Rabbi wishing you a Merry Christmas. This Christmas I give thanks for our churches who go to places where others will not. I give thanks for our churches who visit those in prison and who pray for those who are persecuted, both Christians and non-Christians.
I give thanks for our churches who spend time in nursing homes and in homeless shelters, churches that are intentional in working together with their Muslim, Jewish and secular partners, sharing the grace of God beyond the walls of the church.
This (past) Christmas, I found Jesus. He’s over at Norristown State Hospital, if you are looking for him. I hope you find him, too.