Tuesday, December 8

advent 2009

Every year I dread putting away the Christmas ornaments. At our house, that task begins on the day after Epiphany, and what a chore it is. Last year, however, I enjoyed a very different experience of “putting away Christmas,” as my mother used to say. In company with perhaps a dozen church members, I had the privilege of gently removing the lovely gold and white Chrismons from the sanctuary trees, then carefully wrapping and packing the delicate symbols away. It was my first time to see these beautiful works of art up close, and, because I worked next to Eleanor Blood, I learned both about the symbols themselves (“Christ monograms”) and about the dedicated individuals who made them thirty-five years ago.

“When we began,” Eleanor told me, “we had lots of help. Mary Louise and Jord Claiborne cut out many of the patterns. A number of women brought jewelry from home to incorporate in the Chrismons – gold and white and crystal beads from their favorite necklaces and earrings. Then the workshops began. Even Maude Palmer, who’d lost most of her sight, came. “It would take her several minutes just to situate a bead on a pin, but she wanted to have a part,” Eleanor said. “Each symbol reflects a bit of the personality of the person who made it. Mary Jane Duncan made some of the most delicate and intricate Chrismons.”

“Now be sure to glue each bead!” Eleanor had said over and over again at the Chrismon workshops. “I know they got tired of hearing me say that, but we didn’t want a single bead to fall off.” Sure enough, thirty-five years later, these symbols of faith shine from the sanctuary Christmas trees in near-pristine condition.

As we continued to pack the Chrismons away, I considered each symbol: a crook for the Good Shepherd, a crown for the King of Glory, a Celtic cross for the early church on the western fringe of northern Europe. “Do you have a favorite?” I asked Eleanor – a bit like asking a mother to name her favorite child. “Well, I think this one is very special,” Eleanor replied, showing me a beautiful mirrored ornament. “The message comes from Colossians 1:27: Christ in you, the hope of glory!” she said triumphantly.

I’ve been reflecting on our Chrismon tradition this year as we begin the challenge of renovating our 176-year old roof trusses. Isn’t it interesting to think of the parallels? Those who have gone before us in this old church have taken good care of the tradition, the mission, and the building itself. Now, as Steve Stramm says, “It’s our time.” We will soon be asked to give and to give sacrificially so that we can preserve the historic treasure that is our sanctuary building. However, like the Chrismons, our building’s great value lies not in its beauty or its historical significance, but rather in its message.

We pack away our Chrismons each year so they can continue to tell the story of the Savior again and again. And sometime after Epiphany, we will join together to make our pledges so that our fine old sanctuary can continue its mission of bearing witness to God’s love on Chippewa Square. As we come to this season and to the task ahead, let us give thanks for the Grace that came down to earth and for the glue that holds each of us together in this place. Amen!

– Ashley Williams

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