The spirit of Christmas giving lives!

Local church ministry reports

Several churches generously responded to our appeal for information with news of their Advent and Christmas activities. Many thanks! Here are their lightly edited reports.

Conshohocken UMC

Conshohocken UMC is trying “to make this highly unusual year as normal as possible for our church family and local community.” That includes maintaining connections. “Adjusting to all the twists and turns that 2020 has dealt us has not only brought us closer to each other but helped us to develop new and deeper relationships with other individuals and organizations,” reports Pat Patterson, who started and manages the church’s Jillian’s Café entertainment space and other mission enterprises with her husband Dave and church volunteers. Here is some of Pat’s report:

Normally at Christmas if you were to enter our church, you’d see bins filled with gifts for school kids in the Colonial School District who might otherwise not receive gifts as we participate in the Conshohocken Neighborhood Council’s Angel Tree Program. In a normal December, through Conshy UMC’s longest running service initiative, Hope for Christmas Blanket Ministry, you’d see bins and boxes of warm clothing, blankets, and non-perishable goods that we’d normally distribute directly to the homeless in Philadelphia and to local food pantries and homeless shelters.  

Definitely not a normal December, but we have provided gifts for kids as well as for those facing food insecurity and homelessness in a big way. Just after Thanksgiving, two of our younger members, Alex and Justin Kriebel, took to the airways and invited our congregation to participate in our Christmas Mission projects. Within hours of their debut, all of our Angel Tree kids wishes were filled! But it didn’t stop there. Each family will receive a turkey and all the fixings for Christmas dinner and several more meals.

The boys told us that the 10 kids, ages 12-18 in the care of The Montgomery Child Advocacy Program REALLY need socks, winter hats and gloves, T-shirts and all sorts of toiletries. The kids are victims of abuse, neglect or trafficking and many arrive with just the clothing they’re wearing. The message hit a cord with many in our church and the community as well. We were overwhelmed by the donations received from Moms@Hope Love Works Program a group we had partnered with since the spring to bring hope to many children and families.

People were invited to contribute to the Community Support Fund so that we could provide gift cards to struggling families like the 8 families impacted  by domestic abuse that Laurel House is supporting now. To facilitate social distancing, families are being placed in local hotels. We had hoped to be able to supply each family with $50 in gift cards and were thrilled to partner with the Conshohocken Plymouth Whitemarsh Rotary which doubled our gifts the families!

Several times a year, our church volunteers at the Haws Avenue UMC Soup Kitchen prepare and serve a hot lunch at the soup kitchen to those in need. When we serve on Sunday, Dec 20, we will also provide each adult with a personal care kit provided by Moms@Hope. Each of the kids will receive a gift bag with new hats, gloves, snazzy socks, a beautiful handmade scarf and a Christmas activity pack from our CUMC family.

The boys in our video reminded us that many people are homeless and in need our help more than ever. With our church family and the CPW Rotary we are able to fill the needs of the Norristown Hospitality Center, which provides day shelter, breakfast, shower, phone, fax, mail, counseling, social service referrals for 50 adults, Monday through Saturday.

A team from Conshy United has recently begun participating in twice weekly deliveries of Wawa breakfast sandwiches to the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC), a day center and 50 bed shelter for men and women over the age of 18. The CHOC provides street outreach, service counseling, transportation, rapid rehousing, meals, clothing and life skills. This Christmas, in addition to serving up breakfast sandwiches we will also provide personal care kits to all of the residents.

Over the past 60 years, the Live Nativity at Conshohocken UMC has become an anticipated holiday tradition. Over the years we’ve encountered glitches which caused us to make  adjustments, like wooden replicas replacing live animals. So, not surprisingly, 2020’s continuing pandemic has triggered changes to this year’s staging which will be held Dec. 18-20, from 7 to 9PM nightly. For starters, all participants will be masked, and we ask everyone to spread Christmas love (not COVID) by masking and maintaining their social distance. Candle-lit luminarias will encircle the stable to further ensure distancing. In addition, our customary refreshments, Christmas Village and live entertainment in Jillian’s Café have been put on hold. But there will be individually-packaged Christmas bags for the kids.

Regardless of the changes, we expect this year’s reenactment will be as memorable as ever…maybe even more so, given the importance of human connection and community during COVID-19. As veteran participant Judy Rhoads put it: “I think we need to carry on our tradition even in this awful pandemic year. Our church is known in town for the live Nativity, and folks look forward to it. We get those who came as children and now bring their little ones. We need some sense of normalcy in this otherwise unconventional year.”

Did you know that historians generally credit St. Francis of Assisi with creating the first live Nativity in a cave in Italy in 1223, and such tableaux existed as a popular feature of the Christmas season in Catholic countries throughout the Middle Ages? It is fitting that this year will be the first time since the Middle Ages that the Christmas Star will once again shine brightly on Dec. 21. At Conshy United we’ll have the Christmas Star shining Dec. 18 through Dec. 20, too!

Haws Avenue UMC, in Norristown

Haws Avenue UMC, in Norristown, continued to offer Glad Tidings, its annual Christmas mission outreach, along with other cooperating churches in its Mission Link. Together they provide toys for kids of Crayon Kids, a child care center located at Haws Avenue UMC, and some low-income families of the neighborhood. This year around five Latino families benefited from the program.

Pastor Lisa DePaz of Haws Avenue sent us this report:

The 4th Annual Glad Tidings Event was held Dec. 5. The Rev. Sue Ketterer, pastor of Bethel Hill UMC, has led the event, with help from Cindy Sheetz, for four years. Churches donate items by holding a Christmas In July event, while members purchase and donate toys, gift cards and funds.

This year about 25 invited families came to the church to pick out toys for their children to help celebrate the Christmas season. They are given $25 in Santa Bucks to shop. This year each family was also given $50 in Giant Gift Cards to help with the cost of Christmas dinners. The families were especially grateful for the help in providing a Christmas for their children. And we were blessed to be able to be involved.

Ridley Park UMC

“I am proud of our food pantry at Ridley Park UMC,” writes Pastor Joanne Hennessy Slawter, who shared with us a report prepared by food pantry manager, Deb Funk:

Ridley Park UMC Food Pantry has been serving local county communities for over 15 years. We open four times a month to provide non-perishable food to those in need. Since Covid-19 started in March, the Food Pantry recipients visiting us have gone from 8 to more than 50 at times. The food bank currently does not ask for information.

Anyone who comes gets a minimum of two bags of nonperishable food, along with other items they can select. Additionally, the Food Pantry Team has contacted Caring for Families, who delivers a pallet of boxed food on Fridays. These boxes contain fresh produce, milk, yogurt and many other items. These items, along with personal items of need, are made available.

The Food pantry phone is receiving calls for families in immediate need, whom we meet there as needed. We also receive dropped-off food donations from companies, organizations and the community. Tears of joy and thankfulness are shed by recipients as they receive items provided to them with security and hope to help them meet their daily needs for nourishment. It’s one less burden to have on their shoulders.

The respect people show in not taking too much, because other people are in need, is also heartwarming. Our Food Pantry team, as well as the recipients, are so thankful for the community’s generosity that continues to support this ministry through this pandemic. We all wish to thank everyone.

We invite and welcome more local church ministry reports through the rest of this season and into 2021. We are eager to share the good news of your ministries and activities with the rest of our conference. Please write to us at communications@epaumc.org or use the Submit News page on our Conference website.