The Advent season, once a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior, has, to many, become a season of stress, shopping and spending.
Six churches in the Brunswick area are conspiring to change that, vowing to celebrate Advent differently this year. Their “Advent Celebration” is a local version of the international Advent Conspiracy movement, which has more than 1,000 churches in 17 countries participating as “co-conspirators” in justice projects around the world.
Brunswick First, College Place, Emanuel, Lakeside, Taylors and The Chapel United Methodist Churches are joining together to make a big impact, both in their local community and in the world.
The international movement was begun in 2006 by five pastors who decided to make Christmas a revolutionary event by encouraging their faith communities to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all. Last year, $3 million was raised through Advent Conspiracy for relief and mission projects. The money was given to support various projects, from drilling water wells so that people can have clean drinking water to providing food and monetary support to local food ministries. The Brunswick churches are also emphasizing ways that participants can give of themselves in non-monetary ways, such as spending time with family members or volunteering at a local charity.
Brunswick First UMC’s pastor, Rev. Richard Soper, is quick to point out that the movement is not about boycotting retail stores, but about redirecting people’s focus and bringing a deeper meaning to Christmas.
“It’s just encouraging people to be more conscious,” he said. “It’s not about bashing stores or their marketing strategies, and it’s not about keeping anybody from spending. It’s about redirecting some of the spending to make a difference to those who Jesus said that if we do it for the least of these then we’ve done it for Him.”
Rev. Soper, The Chapel’s Rev. Jay Hanson and Emanuel UMC’s Rev. Carl Barnhardt will rotate among each other’s churches, each preaching a message of “Simply Hope,” “Simply Joy,” “Simply Peace,” or “Simply Love.”
Rev. Hanson, who will preach “Simply Hope” at the three churches, said that by joining together and uniting and focusing forces, the six churches hope to have a greater impact.
“I hope it will take some of the stress out of the holidays and make them more enjoyable,” he said. “And by partnering with the other churches I think it helps (our congregations) feel like they’re a part of something that’s bigger.”
The six Brunswick churches will each collect a special offering on Christmas Eve and will combine and give them to three Brunswick-area ministries – FaithWorks, Manna House and Mtn2Sea Ministries – and two international ministries – MAP International and Unto the Least of His ministries.
Rev. Soper suggests that people consider buying fewer gifts for themselves and others and instead spend the money on someone who can’t give anything in return.
“Everybody struggles with what to buy for gifts,” he said. “Just give it to somebody who doesn’t have and let that be a gift from your heart. That’s what Christmas is all about – it’s about our relationship with God as we prepare our hearts to receive the best gift the world has ever been given, and that’s God’s Son. We’re trying to reflect that love to the community.”
The pastors involved meet together for lunch every Wednesday. They hope that joining together for their Advent Celebration helps strengthen the connection between their churches.
“This will also help the person in the pew see, understand, and experience what it means to be a connectional church, and the churches in this area are taking great steps to live more fully into that reality,” Rev. Hanson said.
Each church will decide how much of the money they give will go to each ministry, but together they can make more of an impact than they could individually.
“This gives us a chance to highlight the connectionalism of our denomination, which is something that really differentiates Methodists,” Rev. Barnhardt said. “The more we can raise that up and show people the benefit of how much we can accomplish together, it really strengthens our faith.”
Although the special offerings will be received on Christmas Eve, giving doesn’t have to end on Christmas.
“This is about getting people to be thoughtful about their giving,” Rev. Barnhardt said. “The best gift you can give is your presence.”
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
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