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Father Hank used to say that the first time we tried something new in the church it was a precedent, the second time it became a custom and the third time it was a TRADITION. Tradition flew out of the window for me on Christmas Eve and it was joyful. Claude and I did worship at Emmanuel Parish in Southern Pines, but we did not go to the midnight mass. We went at 6:30 without the senior choir but with bells and children’s voices ~ angel voices, still it was not the same. Claude had cleaned every pine needle off the driveway and the yard, no small feat for an 86 year old with back trouble. This must have “done the old boy in” for his back went into spasms during the service. As soon as he took Communion he left for home and I left for Sanford, up the road a piece to assist at the 10 o’clock service at St. Thomas’ Church. Driving up Route One I realized that I was hungry having had nothing but a few M&Ms since a lovely Christmas Eve Day Brunch with friends. The garish glow of the Golden Arches caught my attention. Imagine eating Christmas Eve dinner at McDonald’s. Tradition at my house for years has been oyster stew and cornbread. Sometimes with a Brandy Alexander thrown in for extra calories! I was about to break with tradition. I was the only inside customer; there were a few drive-ups and when they asked if it was “to go or for here,” I said, “here, please.” I had a Happy Meal ~ small cheeseburger (hold the onions), small fries and small diet coke. It was quiet and peaceful sitting there looking at the childrens’s art taped to the windows ~ mostly pictures of candy canes, doll babies, trucks and choo-choo trains. I thought of our dear children in Tanzania and wondered what pictures they would have drawn ~ a soccer ball made of rags, a scooter cobbled together with a makeshift front wheel, no back wheel, or maybe a seesaw made with a stick between a Y in a tree.

All of the help at McDonalds were Hispanics and they busied themselves cleaning the tables and the floors hoping to close at 10:00. All looked weary. My fries were hot, fresh out of the oil (Vit. O) and my thin little cheeseburger hit the spot. I’ve never just handed out a $20.00 bill, well yes I did one Christmas Eve to the old black man who sold newspapers across from the post office but it’s not something I do regularly.  I took out a $20 bill and handed it to one of the women scrubbing the floor and said “Merry Christmas.” Her reaction was worth every gift under our tree. A huge smile brightened her face and she said for me to please tell the manager that I had given it to her so he wouldn’t think she had filched it from the cash drawer. I wished for more money to give away. It felt good to do a random act of kindness to one I will never see again. Maybe she thinks I was Santa Claus in a clerical collar and a red jacket. I got in my sleigh, oops car and drove on to St. Thomas’. Since I was the first there I sat in the car and looked at the sweet and tidy 1930’s bungalows, all displaying twinkling lights behind lacey curtains. They were symbolic for me ~ light in the darkness. I hoped they thought of the baby Jesus coming in the bleak mid-winter amid the warmth of animals in a cave. (It was cold sitting in the car even with the heat on).

And then the service ~ my favorite service in the churches’ year. It is magical and wondrous.

St. Thomas is a beautiful old church, built in 1889. It’s small with elegant stained glass windows and a magnificent reredos. Candles burned in the windows and the altar was a mass of scarlet poinsettias. The processional cross was adorned with greens; the rector’s daughter sang Panis Angelicus with a soaring high soprano that gave me duck bumps. Craig Lister, the priest and I followed the choir singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful, joyful and triumphant.” My location had changed but not my tradition of going up to the altar singing with a lump in my throat: “who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?” To read the Gospel from Luke was a loving privilege, but the humblenss and loveliness of the rector’s homily deserves a blog entry of its own. This was a homily I will not forget and that will come to you dear blog readers in a bit. In the meantime I must do ordinary things like change the beds for the coming of our children.
O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ, the Lord.

Dear readers of our blog, become now readers of The Pilot. In today’s issue (Wednesday, Dec. 23rd) you will find a very interesting article in the Book Section about The Reverend Moses Matonya, principal of Msalato Theological College who will soon be with us in Southern Pines before going to Virginia Theological Seminary for a 6 weeks study sabbatical. If you are in town on Dec. 30th Jessie and I hope to see you at The Country Bookstore to hear him talk about life in Africa. You are also invited to worship at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Seven Lakes on Sunday, Jan 3rd when Moses will preach at 9:30 a.m.

We know it was not coincidental that we went to Tanzania and met all of these faithful people. You really HAVE to come. It’s not every day that you have an opportunity to meet Moses!

Tally’s poignant blog about oranges made me think of things that were/are special in my life at Christmastime.  I imagine all of you have such memories and would love to see them if you hit the comment button on the blog and can send them to us.  This would be a lovely sharing.  Look under the title of the entry – you will see the date, and at the right, “leave a comment”.

My Mother came from Scotland, and baking shortbread was as much a part of preparing for Christmas as was “first footing”  to New Year’s.  As a child, the tree didn’t go up until Christmas Eve, I thought Santa did it.  After I learned the truth about Santa, we put the tree up the week before Christmas, and that was when Mother started her baking.  She had these lovely tins she would put the yummy treasure in and that was the gift she gave to friends and neighbors.  We lived in the country, so neighbors where not that near (I remember how hard it was to have a paper route, and how much walking we had to do at Halloween in order to get a bit of candy).  Most neighbors were well situated, but a few were very poor, and when Mother knocked on their doors, gave them her shortbread, they always had something home-baked for her.  The neighbors who were not poor, though good folks, didn’t give her anything.  This reminds me of Africa where people fed Tally and I at the expense of themselves or their children.  Perhaps it is being so close to the experience of “want” that sensitizes the soul.  The people I know here are sensitive and step in when someone they know is in trouble, and many look beyond their circle of friends to extend a hand.  And, I bake shortbread, but am not as good as my Mother was about giving it to neighbors I know, perhaps I had better start baking another round.

Sergei Prokoviev wrote a fairytale like opera, “The Love of Three Oranges.” I am too much of a concrete thinker to really get into fairy tales and the only thing I remember about the opera is the famous march. I think it was a themesong for a long ago TV show about the FBI.

But I do have a story about oranges that is not a fairy tale; it is a true story and one that helped me find Christmas this year. I have to go back to a Christmas long ago ~ 53 years ago. I may not be able to remember names or what I had to eat for breakfast but somethings stick with me.

I was in the early stages of pregnancy and sicker than a dog. Not only did I have morning sickness, I had all-day-long sickness, and we were new in town, Washington, DC, and didn’t know a soul, not a living soul. But we were young and happy living in a little one-bedroom apartment just across Memorial Bridge with a lifetime ahead of us and a new baby on the way. We needed to find a church and so on one of our first Sundays in our new life, we went to Old St. John’s in Georgetown. The rector was a grandfatherly, portly gentleman named Bill Sharp. Oh, I can remember names. On our first meeting, feeling wretched, I blurted out that I was pregnant and felt like sin. The very next morning there was a tap at our apartment door and there stood Bill in his clerical collar with a jaunty beret set at a French-style angle covering his round bald pate. In his hand was a bag of oranges. He said that his daughter was a nurse and she had told him that oranges were good for pregnant women. With that one gesture of kindness and pastoral care, Bill and Claude and I became good friends and remained so until his death many years later. I don’t remember a single sermon that Bill ever preached but I remember his kindness and that bag of oranges. Maybe that is when I learned about the simplicity of pastoral care.

Now we will fast-forward to December 2009 To tell you the truth, the Christmas Spirit has been hard coming for me this year. My life has undergone a rather radical change and Advent and the coming of Christmas has been different mostly in that I am not involved in the Church with all of its wonderful preparations for the coming of the Christ Child, although I did have the opportunity to preach at St. Paul’s Wilkesboro, NC last Sunday. I think of my friends in Africa who don’t celebrate Christmas in any way as we do. They simply go to church on Christmas day to welcome Jesus. There are no gifts, no trees or pointsettias, not even a special meal. It’s just all about God and his coming manifested in a baby in a manger. My new friends have changed my own heart in many ways. But here I am fretting over whether to have turkey or beef for Christmas dinner when they will have the same old same old ~ beans and rice and maybe oranges. Oranges are their frequent dessert and they are not orange but green. Something of their simple life appeals to me. They will find joy even with a draught looming.

In my bah-humbug mood I came home late one afternoon this past week and hanging on my front door knob was a plastic bag. Now what’s that I wondered. There were two oranges in the bag with this note:
“Love and joy. Ed Conklin” Christmas came afterall and even a few days early.
I found Christmas in memories of Bill Sharp and in a little bag with the gift of 2 oranges. Maybe Santa will put an orange in the toe of your stocking and if so, think of Bill Sharp and Ed Conklin, two priests who loved their people and fed their sheep. There are only a few more shopping days til Christmas. I’m off today to buy oranges. Love to Bill Sharp in heaven and love to Ed Conklin, still on this earth serving the Holy One of God.

May God grant you joy and peace and a delicious orange.

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.

With those words I began an article for Emmanuel Church’s Dec./Jan. newsletter. Our African friends seldom have a ha’penny. In spite of the draught, yes they had only 4 days of minimal rain in November and just today I was asked to pray for them and for rain, they still trust God to provide. Their lives depend on water from heaven, at least from my bird’s eye view. Actually, they accept what God sends or doesn’t send and they continue to rejoice in the Lord always. The truth is that these people will starve if their crops fail.

There will be more blog entries from Jessie and me as we approach the coming of the Christ Child but for now I want to thank the people of St. Paul’s Church in Wilkesboro, N.C. (Diocese of Western North Carolina). We were able to deposit $1100 in the Karimu account today because of their generosity. That is a life-changing amount for them. Most will go to purchase bicycles for the graduating priests. They often serve several parishes in far away villages and having a bicycle is like us having a BMW or even a Leer Jet. God bless the generous souls at St. Paul’s and God bless our brothers and sisters in Dodoma and God bless you, faithful readers.
Tally and Jessie

First, it is gratifying to see that our blog is still being read. Asante sana. Second in reviewing the blog this morning I laughed at my own mistake, I who hate to make mistakes! In one entry I said my mother was quite small: 5 feet 11 inches. Mother never saw 5 feet in her life. She was 4′ 11″ and she gave Father Hank and my children quite a laugh one time when she told us she had been a hurdler when she was in college. Hank, a runner said: “Betty, with those short legs you must have had a difficult time clearing the hurdles.” She was the most unathletic person in the world and none of us really believed she had been a hurdler. But she was an air raid warden & plane spotter during WWII as I wrote earlier. You didn’t have to be tall to do that.

Here are some beloved words from Madeleine L’Engle.
“This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.”

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