By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle
The story felt like one of those feel-good Christmas movies. A mother with four children, working three jobs, and still struggling to make ends meet reached out for help.
She missed the deadline to register for Christmas hampers. Could the Church provide food for her family for Christmas? I got the call at 8:30 Tuesday night and said, let me see what we can do. Texts to the wardens were quickly answered. Within an hour, a plan had been formulated.
Once we confirmed what the family needed, a call was put out via texts, email, and a single post on social media. By Sunday, there was a trunk load of food for the family including all that was needed for a traditional turkey dinner plus resources to make soup with the leftovers. On Tuesday, a second trunk load of food had emerged.
The response in an of itself is not surprising. People are generous at Christmas time. While St. Paul’s is a small congregation, it is known to have a BIG heart. Of course, people would step up.
What makes this situation interesting is that it wasn’t only those on the parish list who stepped up. Posting to social media had a ripple effect. That one post reached more than 1200 people. We are continually learning the extent to which the wider community has respect for St. Paul’s. On multiple occasions folks have heard people who tend to be disconnected from Church say that St. Paul’s is different, in a good way.
Much of that second trunk load of food came largely from the wider community. It was dropped off at the clothing cupboard, a ministry that is well respected and supported by the wider community.
In fact, a single request for girls clothing in early November reached over 11,000 people on social media and led to a major influx of clothing.
The wider community also donated some 60% of the funds raised in our clothing cupboard Giving Tuesday campaign.
Perhaps what this story reveals is that those impacted by this work are not only those who received food, and those who receive clothes, it is also those who are empowered and inspired by the ways in which a small church in a small town seeks to live the Marks of Mission.
It is said that Church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members (Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple).
So often we think of those benefits in terms of our impact in whatever ministries in which we engage and/or charities we support. Perhaps what this story reveals is that those impacted by this work are not only those who received food, and those who receive clothes, it is also those who are empowered and inspired by the ways in which a small church in a small town seeks to live the Marks of Mission.
We are known by the story we tell. How many of our social media posts, one of the most significant ways we can communicate to a wider audience, illustrate our honest efforts to live the story of Christmas, the stories of the Gospels 365 days of the year?
If random individuals on the street were asked about our churches, what would they say? For what are our congregations known? What does it say if the best that can be said is that we have good fundraising meals?
What does it say if people don’t know anything about us? How do we collectively get to that point where people will happily say we are that church, the one that is different, in a good way? We are known by the story we tell. As we reflect on 2022 and decide on ways forward for 2023 through our annual vestry meetings, how much energy will be spent on considering what story we are telling?
What story do we want to tell? What do we need to make that happen?
The choices are ours to make. The possibilities are endless and significant. May we all find ways to live the Gospel that proclaim the Good News to our neighbours in meaningful, engaging, and inspiring ways.
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is the rector of St. Paul's Anglican Church, Essex.