I want to give a shout-out to my colleagues who write for this weekly column. We are the Your Pastor Speaks of the Their View section of the Gazette. While not all of the 30 local writers are pastors, all are in service positions.
I took over coordinating and making the weekly assignments about a year-and-a-half ago. While I don’t know the writers personally, just like the readers, I get to know them by what they write. Most of all, I am grateful they take time from leading their flocks, writing sermons, visiting the sick, comforting the hurting, finding resources for the needy and managing advisory counsels to write an essay of reflection for our community of Gazette readers.
I retired from serving a church last May, so this past Christmas I was available to be with my family in a very special way. Those of us in Delaware traveled to San Francisco, where my daughter lives with her family. Christmas Eve day was fun as we caravanned down crooked Lombard Street, watched the playful seals on Pier 39, ate clam chowder out of sourdough bread bowls, and topped the afternoon off with famous hot fudge sundaes at Ghirardelli.
By 4:30 p.m., we found parking places and hurried into the family Christmas Eve service at St. John’s Presbyterian Church at Arguello and Lake streets. This year, for the first time in my career, I sat on a pew with my daughter, son-in-law, and their two boys to my right and my son, daughter-in-law, and their two boys to my left. In this beautiful candlelit church, the Rev. Theresa Cho invited the children up for an extended children’s moment that lasted the entire service with the rest of us punctuating the Christmas Story by singing carols.
With the exception of toddlers who wandered in and out, Rev. Cho captivated the over 30 children huddled on the floor around her with the story of Mary, Joseph, and the new thing God was doing in the birth of Jesus. At each juncture, she chose a child to add the figures to a light box, which served to further illuminate the capacity crowd in the intimate old city sanctuary.
Then she announced, “But God needed some witnesses to this new thing God was doing! So God chose Shepherds.” Needless to say, I have offered many sermons over the years about this story. I have done quite a few children’s moments as well, but I was struck as never before with this announcement. God needed witnesses!
Just what would that birth in Bethlehem had been without witnesses? And look who God chose to be witnesses? Of all people, the lowest, actually not even a part of society. The Shepherds. God not only wanted them to be the witnesses, God needed them to be the witnesses.
Since I assign the weekly column dates, I knew my week was coming up in February. I wanted to thank the writers who so lovingly and faithfully add their two bits of theology and hope for our local readers of the Delaware Gazette. These busy shepherds who tend the members of their congregations and also find time for spouses, children, elderly parents, friends and relatives in other places. On Christmas Eve I got it! Witnesses and Shepherds. Our writers are witnesses. God needed witnesses then, and God needs witnesses now.
Little did I know what would come to pass in American history in the weeks after Christmas. Witnesses in the impeachment of our current president came forward, spoke their truth under oath and were believed and lifted up for their courage to speak by many people. In contrast, others discounted their testimony, vilified and even fired them for coming forward and speaking.
This is a crazy world we live in, and our country is in a mess. We could use a star to follow. We need people with faith that leads them forward even when they don’t know where they will be staying or sleeping, how they will be fed or how they will manage the birth of a new baby. Courageous acts require people noticing, honoring them, and acknowledging these actions as a new thing God is doing. Witnesses.
God needs them, and so do we.
Rev. Patricia A. Stout is a retired Presbyterian minister and a substitute teacher in the Delaware City Schools.