The Christmas gifts were unwrapped a while ago. A few might already be exchanged or broken, but hopefully most are used and enjoyed. The best gifts keep on giving.
My church received some wonderful gifts in early December when 47 people, each one a gift from God, joined our congregation. But each person also brought with them an armload of gifts that they are willing to share with us, their fellow members.
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The 30 adults in this group bring the gifts of their experiences and skills. Three individuals bring the richness of backgrounds not native to the United States: they were born in Malaysia, India and Poland. Two people in the group have advanced computer skills; a third is a professional recruiter, another leads trainings. Some are artistic: one is studying interior decorating; others love drawing, cooking and knitting. There's an inventor and a master gardener in the group. Two describe themselves as good listeners.
One man plays the tuba; one woman is a band director; one couple is licensed as foster parents. The group also includes a teacher, a plumber, a heating/AC man, and at least one PhD. Others have experience teaching English as a second language, creating databases, and organizing and directing large volunteer events in the community.
In addition to their skills, interests and experience, these people bring the gift of hearts that care. One loves junior high youth; another one hopes to go back to school to become a school counselor. The master gardener loves to teach gardening; one woman said she simply enjoys being a 'worker bee.' A cancer survivor loves to help others facing cancer; two work in animal rescue organizations, and someone else said they simply love to help others. Some expressed a desire to help the elderly, the less fortunate, or children. Autism, Alzheimer's, breast cancer, prolife issues, and infertility were other concerns of their hearts.
That's not all. We're still getting to know these people and the gifts they bring. Plus, more gifts are there, unknown even to their owners. Two women, mothers of school age children, said they were too busy at this season of their life to even know what they would enjoy doing if they had the time! And the 17 children in these families are just beginning the life-long process of uncovering their gifts.
How do we know of all these gifts? "New Life! @ St. Peter," our new member preparation classes, include "Connections," two sessions taught by Pastor Micah Greiner and myself that look at our everyday vocations and also at sharing our gifts in the body of Christ. Participants complete a "Sharing Your Gifts" form to indicate the gifts they are willing to share. But one-on-one time is the best way to learn about someone's gifts. New members, individually or as a couple, spend 30-45 minutes in conversation with a trained volunteer or myself. The goal: to get to know them, to help them get to know our church, and to look for ways they would enjoy using their gifts in service within and beyond our church walls.
So many gifts! It feels like Christmas morning, with wonderful presents piled all around the room, and the torn wrapping paper still scattered about.
But these gifts bring a challenge to our church. Will we stack the gifts in the closet in the spare room (or in a file cabinet or a database), neat and attractive, but unused? Or will we take the initiative to match gifts with service - not only when it's easy (the brass group has been looking for a tuba player!) but also when people's busy lives make scheduling a challenge, when no matching need comes immediately to mind, and when it's simpler and less risky to recruit a familiar face than to work with someone new?
Christmas was all about the greatest gift, the gift of God Himself in a newborn child sleeping on hay in a feeding trough. That baby is now a man, alive and victorious after His sacrificial death; and he is our Lord and the giver of all we possess. We use His gifts to serve others. As we intentionally help each other do the same, His work is multiplied.