The Christmas decorations have been taken down and boxed. The nativity scene animals have returned to their barns, and the presents have been exchanged.
But the generosity of United Methodist churches in the Great Plains Conference has lingered well past the holiday through donations to those inside and outside their congregations.
In a survey of churches conducted for the cabinet by the Rev. Bill Ritter, Blue River District superintendent, nearly 28,000 families were helped over the holiday season, with financial contributions totaling more than $829,000.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said the stories he has heard were “heartwarming ways our congregations incarnated and expressed the love of God to struggling families in our communities with acts of kindness and generosity.”
“More importantly, we celebrated that our congregations swelled with double and triple the normal average weekend worship attendance during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Bishop Saenz added. “That means that over 200,000 people attended our Christmas services to worship, sing, pray and hear an encouraging and sustaining message of the hope, love, peace and joy we find, enter into and experience through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Virtually every congregation in the two-state area got into the giving spirit. Many churches sponsored angel trees to provide both gifts and basic essentials for the underprivileged in their mission fields. Some churches adopted families to ensure they would have a bright Christmas. Others delivered baked goods to first-responders and others who had to work on the holiday.
At Horizons Community Church, a United Methodist congregation in Lincoln, that Christmas goodwill meant transportation for a family in their congregation.
“We had a family in our church who had a car they wanted to donate, so they donated it to us, and we were in turn were able to give it to another family,” said Pippa Miller, the church’s office manager.
The family, Miller said, was young with a baby who was baptized on the same morning that the keys and title were presented to them.
“It was wonderful, absolutely,” Miller said of the dark blue, 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier. “It was just an amazing Sunday for them.” The family also received $900 in grocery and gift cards, as well as boxes of diapers and baby wipes.
After the car was donated, it was taken to a mechanic to make sure it was ready to run. The mechanic’s bill came to $400, which was paid for by one of the members of the men’s group, Miller said.
Although it was the first time Horizons had given a car to one of its families, it’s not a new concept in Lincoln, Miller said – St. Mark United Methodist Church has regularly given automobiles to those in need, and that church was consulted after the donation was made to Horizons.
The donations have continued with another car, while a family is sought to get behind the steering wheel.
“Right now we have one waiting,” Miller said. “I have a feeling maybe this could be a trend that continues.”
Other acts of generosity through the Advent and Christmas seasons at Great Plains churches included: