Today I spent some time with other church folks ringing the bell for Salvation Army at Wal-Mart. It was about 15 degrees out today in Central New York, and I ended up with a chill that was hard to get rid of for the rest of the day, and a sneaking suspicion that my throat is a bit sore, despite my attempt to bundle up today. (I'm usually not the coat-wearing type.)
Aside from the cold, I had a good time ringing the bell. The Salvation Army has a theology more conservative than my own, but I really admire the hands-on work they do. The other day I ran across the quote, ascribed both to Charles Dickens and Mahatma Gandhi - not sure which is correct - "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."
At least in my community, the Salvation Army is the group of people of faith who runs the soup kitchen, has a food pantry, provides emergency shelter, helps people connect with the right social service agencies, hands out thanksgiving baskets and christmas toys, gives out school supplies, and leads after-school programs. Not to say that they are the only group doing such outreach - but they are certainly the leaders. That's why our church, and most others in the community, are happy to help feed into and support their programs in the community. They're already doing what I wish we were doing more of in my congregation.
Today, ringing the bell, it was fun to watch how people approached (or didn't approach...) the red kettle. I appreciated especially the children who were thrilled to "get to" put money in the red kettle, and appreciated those parents who were already cultivating an attitude of joy of giving in their young kids. I noticed that those who seemed, by outward appearances at least, least able to give were the most likely to give. But people of all kinds would stop to give. I laughed at the little boy - maybe two - who found a quarter on the ground. His mother encouraged him to give the quarter to the kettle, but he said, "Nah!" A little girl waiting with her mother for a taxi for about 1/2 an hour got permission first to run over to me to say "Merry Christmas" and then to come put a dollar in.
Are the kettles out in your community? Wal-Mart is not my favorite place, but I'm glad that they continue to allow the Salvation Army to ring out front.