by Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister

As we mark the beginning of the season of Advent and the approach of Christmas, I celebrate the variety of ways that congregations around WDC observe this special time of year.

Last Sunday I attended Salina (KS) Mennonite Church, where the first Advent candle was lit, and we were invited to bring forward small twigs to lay in a crèche as a sign of fire that offers warmth and light in anticipation of Christ’s coming.  After worship, church members told me with delight about their Christmas Eve tradition of gathering to sing, share reflections, read scripture, and of course eat holiday goodies.

In a visit to Hanston (KS) Mennonite Church the previous Sunday, I heard how church members are preparing to memorize lines and attend rehearsals for the Journey to Bethlehem, a community living-nativity program presented annually in nearby Jetmore.

Meanwhile, Trinity Mennonite Church has been doing its own “walk to Bethlehem,” fostering healthy exercise habits by marking the distance between its hometown of Hillsboro, KS and Jesus’ birthplace.  Each month this year, church members have recorded the number of steps they walked, minutes they swam, or miles they ran, and a nurse in the church converts this into equivalent miles to calculate the updated total for the congregation.  Even the oldest member, at age 94, is walking the halls of her health-care center with her walker.   As of this writing, the congregation is “in” Libya; they hope to be in Egypt next week, and all the way to Bethlehem by Christmas (or the New Year)!

Aside from traveling, a quick tour of church websites reveals additional ways that congregations are creatively observing this season: With artistic banners and visual symbols, family devotional guides, children’s coloring booklets, assembly of hygiene kits and infant kits for Mennonite Central Committee, sharing tamales or peppernuts, collecting food for the hungry, hosting a performance of Handel’s Messiah, and other special musical programs.

However your congregation is observing this season, may it renew your sense of hope and wonder at the profound gift of God’s love and peace in a broken and hurting world.   Now and in the coming year, may our congregations be visible signs of Emmanuel, God-With-Us!