So tonight was supposed to be our church’s Christmas party . . . a meal, games, and wrapping gifts for children in need. When the ice and sleet began around 4:00, we had to make a call, but dinner was pretty much prepared already. A few of us who had gathered at the church to handle the gifts began making plans for wrapping them another time, as it was clear that we all needed to get home. All activities were cancelled, and four of us left at about the same time. After an hour, none of us driven more than a half mile from church. Traffic was at a stand still because of the ice. Accidents were everywhere, and one road was completely iced so that traffic could not get through. No one was moving anywhere.
My husband, Jake, and I decided to get out of each of our vehicles and walk back to the church. Our minister of music, David, called Jake to say he was walking a mile back to the church and was picking up folks along the way. As we ventured out of our car and into the ice and sleet, we stopped at cars near us and said “Don’t know where you’re headed, but if you want to come inside and get warm, we’re walking up to the church. There’s food there. Come on.” Almost every stranger we met thanked us and prepared to leave their cars on the side of the road. We had to climb the icy hill to the church. A young mom, her son, and I held hands as we slipped up the hill.
Once we got inside, the meal was ready for us. We began taking the Wednesday night supper out of the fridge; most of it was still warm. Jake stayed upstairs, welcoming half-frozen people inside. We made hot chocolate. We ate a glorious meal of ham, potato casserole, veggies, and warm rolls. People kept piling inside. About seventy strangers ended up sharing a meal and getting to know one another.
The best surprise was that one group of folks from the road were teenagers heading to dress rehearsal for “The Nutcracker.” So after we all ate and warmed up, the kids put on a live performance of the ballet in the fellowship hall. It was wonderful! Judy Brandon searched the pantry and found ingredients for a cake. She and several moms, strangers before tonight, baked a cake together. Kids and teenagers made themselves at home, having fun like they had been at this church all their lives. This has turned out to be one of the best Christmas parties I’ve ever attended.
A police officer stopped by the church and filled us in on the road conditions. It was clear that no one needed to be traveling until things thaw in the morning. So we decided it was time for phase two of the party. We set up the screen and projector in the sanctuary, let the kids fill the center aisle and showed the Charlie Brown Christmas movie. Adults spread out on the pews. Most of them are drifting off to sleep now.
The church is warm and safe and full of people tonight. I have so many thoughts about this night. . . a change of plans, welcoming strangers, offering a meal, sharing a table . . . but I’m pretty sure that what happened here tonight was truly the gospel. And my heart overflows with that thought.
Erin Robinson Hall is president of Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia. She lives in Ball Ground, Georgia.