"Let us rejoice and be glad". How do you rejoice in a day? Did you enjoy the sunny weather? (At least it was sunny and in the high 70s here in New Jersey). Did you relax and spend time with family? Did you do things around the house? Did you spend time talking to God? Were you even thankful for the day?
For me, rejoicing in the day meant going to the local Salvation Army Drop-In center with a group from my church to serve in a program we've dubbed "Meals & More". It's simple really. We serve a meal and give out a little something 'more'...this time out it was a 'hygiene kit' of toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, pack of tissues, and for the ladies, some 'feminine products' as well.
While it's a wonderful way for people in our church - and sometimes their friends and neighbors - to serve others, the birth of this service project wasn't quite so simple. It was originally meant to be a one time project but it quickly became a congregational favorite and a regular item on our calendar.
The reason it was initially a 'one time project' was because it was conceived to provide attendees of our Living Nativity last December, an 'after-Christmas' way to plug into our church and the community. Everyone is in the giving spirit around the holidays...but once the decorations are put away and the bleak, gray skies of January take hold, doing good for our fellow man often goes by the wayside. While I understood the concept of what church leadership wanted, I was struggling to believe that it would be well received by people who were not part of the regular congregation. I mean, we reach out to the community, but we were being asked to help the community reach out to itself, and I confess, I was having trouble wrapping my brain around that.
The Live Nativity was for 2 weekends in December, and as I said, it was an outreach to our community. A free and creative way for them to experience the truth of Christmas. We asked local organizations and non-profits to participate by decorating ornaments for a 'pageant of peace trees'...16 Christmas trees which lined the path from the parking lot to the beginning of the Nativity walk through.
That's when I discovered our plan had a problem. The kitchen at the Drop-In Center is small - only about 12 people are needed - 15 at the absolute max. And many people had signed up as families, excited that their children could learn the benefits of helping their fellow man. Problem was, the Salvation Army couldn't have anyone under the age of 18 serving there. It was time to develop another strategy.
The remaining adults headed to the Salvation Army to actually serve the food. We had provided recipes for a basic chicken noodle soup and chocolate chip cookies, so that even though multiple people were preparing the items, it was all the same thing. In addition to those two menu offerings, we made turkey sandwiches and ham sandwiches and gave out apples and oranges. There was bottled water, lemonade and iced tea to drink.
We discovered that there are no meals served on the weekends in our city other than what the Drop-In Center can provide on occasion through church and other groups. That knowledge and the overwhelming positive feedback from those who participated, led to us conclude that we needed to do this again. So today was the third time this year we've been at the center. And next year we're planning to do it quarterly. Ultimately, I'd love to find some funding to allow us to do this once a month.
And so, that's how I rejoiced in this beautiful, Fall, God-given day...fellowshipping through service with church friends, partnering with people at the Salvation Army who are living out their faith every day, and serving those who are struggling to find a foothold in a life that has handed them great challenges and unforeseen disappointments. I hope today we gave them as much joy in receiving a delicious, home-cooked meal and some basic necessities, as we had putting it all together and serving them.
So, how did you rejoice?