COLUMBIA — I love Christmas.
For most of my life I attended church regularly. At one point, I worked for the church and consequently many of my friends are members of the clergy. Over the past decade, I’ve tended to stay away from church. Quite often I find myself in discussions where I’m called upon to explain my position. That’s easy.
I’m pretty much a stickler for going with what works for the best of society, and for a long time, I saw churches as working to help maintain a civil environment. I don’t find that to be true so much anymore. Almost everywhere I look, there’s a church on every corner, but between those corners are neighborhoods filled with parents, many of whom are overly permissive or neglectful or abusive. Of the children growing up in those neighborhoods, many are totally out-of-control or neglected or abused. Among the older people, also within those neighborhoods, many are struggling for survival, with indifferent health care, inconsiderate children, alone and isolated, not only from necessary services, but from human companionship.
Somehow it’s hard for me to believe that a lot of these churches have anything to do with Christmas.
The churches on the corners seem constantly in the process of raising money for the building funds, which of course, will be used for entertainment centers for the youth whom the church is making an around-the-clock mission to attract. Church leaders don’t seem to have noticed that we are a graying nation, and the majority of the people no longer raise large families. And, of course, it was these same older people who labored in love to build and maintain the churches through good and bad times. So willing though, are many of the churches to support the youth culture’s philosophy that it’s all over for the old people, and so the church can forget them.
What about the many who are growing into middle-age or are they already so old that they also want to do Bible study and contemporary issues classes or contribute to the strengthening of the neighborhood through mission programs? What about basketball and soccer?
Because I grew up in the church and remember what an important role it played in the life of the community, I’m not impressed with much of what I see, although, I am certain there are some outstanding examples of churches-in-community-action. I remember when churches augmented the efforts of parents to bring up socially responsible children, assisted teenagers in developing meaningful goals, helped young married couples in finding ways to support each other and offered single people wholesome activities through mission work. In those days, kids were able to find games for themselves to play. The church had bigger fish to fry.
During this recent surge of wintry weather, I hope one of those churches on the corner organized crews to help their older neighbors shovel off their sidewalks and driveways. In areas where power was lost, I hoped they could use their buildings as warming centers. What a good use for mission funds that would be! I hoped one of them spent the summer checking on the homes of poor people to make sure they had secure locks for their doors and windows or perhaps mowing their lawns.
When I look around and see the splendid church buildings in the midst of declining neighborhoods that always tells me things about the church that I don’t want to know. It also tells that group of young people they are trying to pull in, something of what that church is about.
Members of the churches once had a part in helping to establish the community standards. Those were the unwritten laws that citizens obeyed because the community would not tolerate anything less. The able-bodied helped the elderly and disabled to cross the street, for example, just because it was the right thing to do, and people learned that at home and in Sunday School. Such behavior put outsiders on notice that this was a caring neighborhood. Instead of doing a lot of religious talk, people acted out a lot of religious behavior.
It becomes more difficult during the Christmas season for me not to become nostalgic and fall into memories when church activities formed so much of my family’s celebration. Instead of changing with the times, I wish we had grown with them.
But, one of the blessings of Christmas is its gift of hope. We always have the opportunity to build on our core of basic values. Demonstrating love, compassion, tolerance and respect are just a few of the ways in which we can share the gift. The possibility that we can be better tomorrow than we are today inspires most of us to continue to strive. We know what Christmas brings to us. Perhaps, we might ask ourselves what we bring to Christmas?
Here’s hoping you have peace and joy.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.