I have been a priest in The Diocese of West Missouri, both active and retired, for nearly thirty-five years. So, I have become familiar with many of our congregations and their various ministries. St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is one of those. Granted, I saw it mostly from a distance until I became their Interim Rector early in the fall of 2016.
St. Michael’s is certainly not one of our larger congregations with an average Sunday attendance of less than 100, but they are some of the hardest working folks I have ever seen in the Church. This hard work is reflected in every area of their life and allows them to see God at work in the deeper recesses of the soul. Given their size, the amount of their outreach ministry is especially noteworthy and almost beyond compare.
Our Food Pantry is open twice a week for whoever needs it – no pre-qualifications or vouchers needed. Our Necessity Pantry is open twice a month, voucher needed, and provides almost any of the basic necessities of life that you could think of. Did I mention that we also operate a clothes closet on the side, striving to keep clothes reflective of the current season? All of this serves about 250 families or just over 700 people each month. It is an amazing and a wonderfully graced ministry of the Lord!
In the middle of December as we opened the doors on our Necessity Pantry, our annual Christmas Toy and Winter Hat Ministry also went into full gear.
Let me explain. Although a good number of folks at St Michael’s contribute toward this ministry financially, spiritually, and physically by working at the Necessity Pantry, the lion’s share of the work on this is done each year by Cecelia Carter. Cecelia is the one who gathers together our delegated resources, both those we have raised and those she has brought together. This year, for the Christmas Toy Ministry, those resources have approached $2000, not to mention all the toys which were just brought in by folks. Because of God’s grace working through Cecelia and the people of St. Michael’s, we were able to give out hundreds of toys to families who would have had nothing under the tree otherwise. This is a labor of love for Cecelia and none of it would happen without her.
Let me tell you just a little bit about Cecelia. As a youngster, she recalls the times that the only Christmas she ever really experienced was from donations being given to the City Union Mission. She will tell you the story about how one of the gifts she longed for was a Bible and that years later she happened to be at a dinner party where one of the guests commented about a young girl he had come across years before at the Mission, and that all she wanted for Christmas was a Bible. The two, as it were, were finally reunited. Much of her working life was spent as a social worker at the City Union Mission where she found herself involved with much the same sort of thing. She was always trying to find toys for children at Christmas. She continues to live life with a soft, gentle soul and a longing for the Lord. She found her way to St. Michael’s in 2011. It seems now as though that was a path led by God. She first began collecting toys to distribute through St. Michael’s when Mother Pat Miller (the rector at the time) made announcements about families using our Food Pantry having additional needs for Christmas. And then it began, as God placed it upon Cecelia’s heart to act.
The first year toys were collected just for children up to five years of age. Gradually the age began to rise as both Cecelia as the folks at St. Michael’s saw the larger need. This ministry now offers toys for children up through age sixteen. To begin with, Cecelia did all of this by herself and actually guarded it from others. But she has learned to open herself to God’s grace as well as this has become more and more a ministry of the body of Christ gathered at St. Michael’s. Cecelia is still very much the one in charge though.
The amazing thing is that parents, when they come in, don’t take the toys you think they might take. Greed does not seem to be the motivator for the majority of those we serve.