This is my second Advent as part of the Stewardship Leaders Program, and I have learned a lot during my time here. My definition of stewardship used to be confined to raising money for the church budget—and is now expansive and holistic and includes cultivating relationships as we participate in God’s mission to love our neighbor. Showing up for people is stewardship and God is most definitely at work in those holy spaces. So as we start Advent and walk together through the darkest time of the year, I share stories about stewarding relationships and discovering God’s light breaking in—even in the darkest of dark places.
It all started with a text message on Palm Sunday afternoon in 2017. Gina had ovarian cancer. My heart sunk a billion times. Gina was my second friend diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 18 months; Gina had two little kids—age 3 and 7. She was a beloved music teacher at a middle school. Gina was my friend. And Gina was eternally optimistic, a lover of people, Jesus, music, parties, and Christmas. She was surrounded by gobs of friends. Because of Gina, we started a group called the Sister-Joists. A joist is important in construction because it spans wide open spaces horizontally and transfers the load to vertical structures, thus distributing the weight. In a sense, (go with me here), the joist is all about supporting community!
- The Sister-Joists set up meal delivery and weekly surprise Advent gift deliveries for the kids, transportation, and occasional child care.
- The Sister-Joists asked Gina how she wanted to celebrate her birthday, and she opted for a limousine ride to a restaurant known for its chocolate cakes. So, that is what we did. We got dressed up, rented a limo, and celebrated Gina’s last birthday in very fine style.
- When Gina entered hospice, the Sister-Joists asked how we could help and Gina said she wanted to die surrounded by Christmas. So, we decorated her hospice room for Christmas—complete with Christmas music, carolers, a tree, ornaments, lights, stockings, and all the things.
- Gina died on December 12, 2018, and the Sister-Joists undecorated her hospice room so her family wouldn’t have to do that difficult task.
After Gina died, the Sister-Joists wanted to stay together to support her family—and because we had grown close. We had experienced God together. So, we organized on GroupMe and planned events using that platform. We continued supporting each other during everyday highs and lows; we continued our supporting community.
8:15 PM Prayers
Then, I got another text message. My heart sank again. Zachary’s cancer was back. He was cancer-free for 2 years, and he would spend his 11th birthday starting chemo and immunotherapy all over again. So, the Sister-Joists asked Zachary’s mom what she needed. She asked us to pray every night at 8:15 p.m..
- We started praying every night at 8:15 p.m. using the GroupMe online platform.
- Rebecca organized people to share prayers each night, and we got into a groove.
- We have been praying every night at 8:15 pm since January 18, 2021. No breaks. Rebecca is still organizing the pray-ers.
- Zachary is cancer-free for the second time and will continue treatment until January 2022 to make sure cancer cannot come back. We will continue praying.
Advent Prayer Walks
This year, with the pandemic still raging, but vaccinations allowing some social contact, the Sister-Joists Advent activities will be outside. (Better than last year when we were only on Zoom!) We will gather with our families every Sunday in Advent at 4 PM to light candles, pray, and walk. On Nov 28 each household will be invited to bring one candle to our prayer walk. Next, on Dec 5, each household will bring two candles; on Dec 12 we’ll bring three, and on Dec 19 each household will bring 4 candles.
We need each other. Our relationships have grown through trauma and joy over the past four years. We have tended them and experienced God’s Spirit through them. Even as the days get shorter and the time of darkness gets longer, we will gather every week to walk and pray adding light as we approach Christmas when the light of Christ breaks in for the whole world.
Stewarding Community Tips for Ministry Leaders
I wish I had a foolproof strategy for stewarding community that I could offer, but there are so many variables—and this group I am a part of was totally grass roots and happened organically (probably a little Holy Spirit action involved). I can suggest a few things that might be helpful.
- Pay attention to the needs of people in your community, so you are aware when someone is walking in the dark.
- Encourage your people to care for each other, and talk about different ways to do it—always respecting boundaries!
- Remind people that working together they can meet almost every need from meals to driving to childcare to setting up an online texting group using an app like GroupMe or What’s App. Someone in their circle of friends will know just how to handle specific challenges.
- Identify people interested in providing care.
- Identify people interested in organizing caregiving activities.
- Pay attention to where God’s Spirit is moving and support that activity.
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