COLUMBIA SC — As the ancient story goes, it was a caring bishop from Turkey who gave to the poor, believing that secret giving was the best kind, and became widely known as the original St. Nicholas.
That sentiment was at the forefront Sunday evening at St. Martin’s-in-the Fields Episcopal Church, as members gathered for the annual Blessing of the Stockings.
For 10 years the church has prepared stockings for the Salvation Army to help the less fortunate during the holidays. Sunday, St. Martin’s members offered special prayers for the stockings and for those who will receive them.
“I think it’s really easy to get the idea that Christmas is about getting stuff,” said St. Martin’s assistant rector the Rev. David W. Wagner. “It’s not just about taking, but taking the gifts that God has given to us and spreading them around.”
As a representation of that spirit, families from the church picked up about 100 empty stockings that had been delivered and filled them individually based on gender and age before returning them to the church. Most of the stockings included personal care items, small toys, art supplies, small books, handheld games, electronics, wallets, cologne, jewelry, socks, gloves or hats.
“As a guideline, we suggest that families fill a stocking that mirrors their own family dynamic,” said Michelle McDonnell, St. Martin’s coordinator of Children and Family Ministries. “(We tell them) think of this as shopping for your own son, daughter, grandchild. It makes it more personal.”
Sunday’s service began with a procession of the children and included the lighting of the lamps, scripture reading, hymns and a short message on giving based on the life of St. Nicholas. Children and other guests were then invited to bring their own stockings from home to the front to be included in prayers for the stockings that were being given away.
“At St. Martin’s, we use a language with our children that not all that is holy is seen or touched, but it can certainly be experienced,” McDonnell said. “For instance, when you pray, you not only ask for things ... but you also give thanks. We ask them to give thanks first. If our children know how to be thankful, they don’t need to be thanked, because they already know the joy in receiving and being thankful for those blessings.”
The stockings will be delivered to the Salvation Army, which will distribute them in the community. And as a second component of the outreach, adults, young adults and families with children from the church are being encouraged to volunteer Dec. 14 during the Salvation Army’s Christmas assistance program at the S.C. State Fairgrounds, where they will gather for prayer, deliver the stockings and assist the Salvation Army with various needs.
“We want our children and youth to know that donating and volunteering is one way to continue in Nicholas’ spirit and a way to contribute to the mystery of Christmas,” McDonnell said. “We want them to know that their efforts are valued and can make a difference, but we also want them to see the enormity of the need in our community.”
McDonnell said the practice of giving is innate to the nature of young people.
“Children are born with an inherent sense of mystery and a desire to give and receive love,” she said. “They are curious and capable of understanding many things that we put past them, claiming they are not ready. The season of Advent (leading up to Christmas) is a great time to slow down, wait and wonder together.”