In the time following the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues that took place last fall, we are wondering what more the Holy Spirit might have in mind for our parishes. Our steering committee will meet on January 15 to consider possibilities. In this reflection, Mark Ewing offers an idea that has already happened.
A Christmas Reflection
As I sit here on Christmas morning (in my jammies and waiting for the festivities of the day), I wanted to take a moment (at Pastor Zorn’s request) to tell a story. This is the story of my Angel Tree experience.
During the course of our Catholic/Lutheran dialogue series, one of our topics revolved around giving. Giving back, giving of ourselves, etc. I shared the table with a variety of folks, some of them were from IHM. I shared our stories of our Manna From Heaven, Disaster Relief, Guatemala outreach and others. During that conversation, a person from IHM spoke of their Prison Ministry. My ears perked up like a kid hearing “All the candy you can eat…FOR FREE”.
After the session, I asked for some contact information. I was graciously provided with the name of a wonderful gentleman named Charlie Pfizenmayer (I think it’s pronounced “Smith”). I arranged a breakfast meeting and Charlie and I had a very nice introductory morning. He explained the deep multi-faceted task that he has taken on. You see, the Prison Ministry reaches out to incarcerated people, men and women alike from County, Regional and State Prisons. He does weekend retreats at the prisons, Returning Citizen mentoring and Angel Tree visits. The latter is what I gravitated to.
The Angel Tree organization accepts requests from the incarcerated to provide gifts for the children that will be without them for the holidays. Now, this sounds easy enough, but after my first meeting, I soon realized this was a logistical nightmare…that Charlie orchestrates masterfully.
First, Charlie requests the names by zip code. They cover from Avondale and Mt. Healthy to Williamsburg (he said he wished he could do more, especially “out east” because there are many areas that aren’t “touched” at all). Then, he has to contact all the provided contacts and work out if they still live there, if there are any “circumstances” (protection orders, no contact orders, etc.) we need to know about. Once that is done, an army of shoppers are turned loose to try to fill the wish list provided. Then the delivery schedule is filled. It was very reminiscent of an old war movie where an invasion is being planned, large flip-chart-sized paper with names and addresses and delivery dates. Michelle and I stood in awe. Given my travel schedule, my window of availability was limited. But, I did get a day that I could make a visit and I’m glad that I did.
My visit was with Charlie and two other folks from IHM. It was to a residence in Avondale where the grandmother was rearing the children (an unfortunate but all too familiar dynamic in today’s society). Charlie gave us the situational details as we drove to the visit. The father will be incarcerated until 2022 and the mother wasn’t even mentioned. We arrived with gifts in tow (Charlie made sure everyone on the visit team carried something) and proceeded up to the small apartment. We introduced ourselves and explained that we were bringing gifts from dad. The kids (a girl age 10 and a boy age 8) opened the gifts and the smiles were uncontainable…for everyone. We took some pictures for dad then we all joined hands to pray. We prayed the Our Father and though I’ve prayed this hundreds of times, I found myself getting a bit emotional. Feeling in my heart these kids were not only given something from an absent parent(s), but that a connection was still being made through us, made it very special (also, that these children will be in their teens before they see dad again made my heart ache for them).
At the end of the day, though, it was very humbling and heartwarming to be able to spread a little Christmas Spirit and Christ’s Love to strangers. Living a little of Matthew 25 through the eyes of a child is life changing.
My hope for next year, is that more of my LCR brothers and sisters take up the call and experience this firsthand. Maybe we can help bridge the gap for the other “untouched” areas.
God’s Peace to all,
About the Author: Mark Ewing is a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, Ohio.
About LCR: Lutheran Church of the Resurrection is a vibrant and welcoming community of faith and a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.