A Little White Church Advent
Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.
A silence fell upon the room. A request was made that no one really wanted to step up to and see through. A woman at my table waved to the waitress to order another glass of wine. A good diversion on her part, I thought, pondering whether I, as pastor, could order a glass of merlot with her. Hmm…better stick to my diet Coke. Others around me glanced down at the meeting agenda before them feigning interest in what was to be discussed next.
It was the first Wednesday of the month Chamber of Commerce meeting held in the village tavern, where one could get a really juicy mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with a side of some of the best onion rings I have ever tasted. Perhaps the promise of hamburgers and onion rings was the reason I became active in the Chamber of Commerce, as it was a great way of killing two birds with one stone. I was fulfilling the “being part of the community” part of being a pastor while satisfying my love for greasy pub food.
The room was still silent and for a second I found it amusing how the local business owners gathered for the meeting tried not to make eye contact with the Chamber president. The question he asked lingered like a low hanging cloud.
Who will take responsibility for decorating the gazebo on Main Street? Any takers? Any one?
More glasses of wine were ordered and eyes continued to divert eye contact with the one asking the question.
Before I knew it, my hand went up and I could hear my voice saying something my head really didn’t have time to think through carefully, “The little white church would love to decorate the gazebo.”
Smiles from the Chamber president came and sighs of relief were let out from others.
Did I really just volunteer the church to decorate the village gazebo?
We were already very busy with Advent Bible studies, after school programs for kids, a Christmas cookie sale, packing shoeboxes of toys for a mission project, a caroling dinner scheduled and, for the first time in the little white church’s history, two Christmas Eve services were being planned along with a new Christmas Day service. Of course, there were the Christmas Eve luminaries to also coordinate and put together. Now who was in charge of getting the kitty litter to fill the paper bags?
What in heaven’s name did I do?
God’s answer was to come.
For while having one more thing on the church calendar was not ideal, it turned out decorating the village gazebo was a blessing for both the church and the community it served, as it got us out of the confines of the sanctuary and into the heart of where people were—on Main Street, going about their day, making a trip to the bank, the hardware store, the wonderful little café with the best homemade chocolates and the consignment shop, etc.
In the midst of daily life in the village, the folks from the little white church were doing more than just stringing lights on a gazebo. They were shining their lights out to the community, showing they cared just as much as to what was happening on Main Street as what was happening within the four-walls of the church.
As we strung greenery and lights around the gazebo, villagers would stop to say hello and chat and, as I precariously balanced on a ladder to hang a red bow high up on one of the lampposts, I noticed something.
I noticed the beautiful steeple of the white church peeking over at me and realized how much of a beacon of hope the church has been for centuries to those who called this village home. It was then I knew we had to do more than just hang greenery and lights around the gazebo. And so with a fir tree stuck in a pot at the entrance of the gazebo in which the town dropped off earlier that morning, I came up with an idea. Or more like it, God’s Spirit spoke to my heart as to what to do.
The little white church would decorate the village tree with prayers, many prayers and blessings for neighbors and friends who loved their village dearly.
So one night we gathered the youth and the children of the church and with permanent markers in a variety of colors and weather resistant foam sheets, Christmas ornaments were created in the shapes of stars and crosses and hearts. Written upon them were our prayers for all in the village. When we were done, we put on our coats and made our way just up the street to the gazebo where we finished decorating.
Yes, the little white would love to decorate the gazebo, I volunteered, not knowing what I was getting our church into. But God knew exactly what we were to do.
We decorated the public tree with the promises of God for all to read and for all to remember that God had not forgotten the once thriving village that now struggled as so many little communities now struggle all throughout our country. God had not forgotten those who called the village home, sweet, home.
A few days before Christmas I was having the desire to have my mushroom and Swiss cheese burger complete with the best onion rings I have ever tasted. I just couldn’t wait till the January Chamber of Commerce meeting.
As I walked from the church to the tavern to pick up my order, I passed the gazebo and the prayer tree. There standing in front of the tree was an elderly lady with a little child. She was leaning down gently speaking to the child who I could hear, as I came closer, was asking about what the ornaments said. Each ornament the child pointed to, the woman read the prayer out loud.
It is an image I will forever hold in my heart for it was a moment when I experienced Christ’s church becoming once again a vibrant and vital witness out into the public, where our witness to God should be.
The woman noticed me staring at the beautiful scene she unknowingly gifted me with and she smiled and said, “This tree is such a blessing. God is indeed with us. God is good.”
I smiled in agreement and went on my way. I had a mushroom and Swiss cheese burger with the best onion rings I have ever tasted waiting for me at the tavern.
God is good. All the time.