Good tidings: Marshall pastors reveal the miracles
In this Christian community, Marshall County residents are celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus who is worshiped as Lord, savior and one who became a teacher of a life everlasting.
Another obvious fact facing residents and their leaders are the continued recessionary conditions that have some families realigning a way of life, frequently in search of survival where previously it was the pursuit of happiness.
"When joy is hard to come by, give comfort," the Rev. Steve Thomas said in a cell phone call when he was in Texas last week. "It doesn't take much to call someone who's alone, or elderly, or without a job."
The pastor of Belfast Presbyterian Church is one of several religious leaders asked for their view of these contrasting circumstances in a season of hope symbolized by the birth of a child when the dismal science of economics continues to deliver gloomy statistics on what a local leader called unacceptable unemployment.
Nevertheless, "At least 120 or more volunteers" shopped with a cop when Lewisburg Police organized trip to Wal-Mart so underprivileged children could buy toys for themselves, Thomas reported.
The Rev. Rocky Cunningham of LifeSong Family Church is "proud that the people listened when people cried out... Thursday night's Care Kitchen served 150 people. Not one left hungry.
"During 2010, I've seen a lot of people in need. Some were in need of a job; some in need of care and some were hungry," Cunningham said. "And I have seen Marshall County step up and meet that need... and this has been done through the giving and donations from the people and the businesses of Marshall County."
Gary Davis, assistant minister of the Second Avenue Church of Christ, said he believes Christmas should be celebrated every day of the year, as it is, apparently.
"I've researched the Bible from Genesis to Revelations," the president of the NAACP branch here said, "and I've never found a date for when Christ was born."
Davis is also celebrating successes here for a larger community that's emerging from a time without leaders from their own: Roy Dukes, director of schools; Jo Ann Henry, elections director; Ronald Robinson, executive director of the Housing Authority; Douglas Alexander, chairman of the authority and a former police chief; and Robert "Pepper" Biggers, assistant superintendent at the water department.
"The Christmas season is about faith and Christ's birth in a manger," the Rev. James Hickey said.
Turning to the contrast from that symbol of hope, the pastor at East Commerce Baptist Church acknowledged that, economically, times are hard.
"People have had to turn to the Lord and trust in Him more, compared to when they were more self sufficient," Hickey continued. "He doesn't promise that life will be good or simple...
"The churches have been impacted by the economy, but the churches have been strengthened by their faith," he said.
Sunday afternoon, a tall thin man wearing a two-strapped duffel bag like a knapsack and a ball cap with words declaring him a Vietnam Veteran stepped up to the church before the East Baptist Church presented "The Gift Goes On," its Christmas pageant in the main sanctuary. A member later reported the church has a ministry for such travelers. Another said a visitor made a small cash donation for the single man.
"More than 700 meals" were prepared and delivered on Thanksgiving morning by volunteers helping LifeSong, Cunningham said. "This Christmas we have already prepared over 560 food baskets.
"The angel tree was filled to the top," LifeSong's minister said. "There were more angels on the tree than any year before, but all of them were taken" to fulfill the needs of families.
The Angel Tree and the Bell Ringing ministry are programs started by The Salvation Army, but here LifeSong administers that ministry.
"We've had the highest unemployment rate in the state," Cunningham said. "Yet the people of Marshall County have stepped up. I would rather be a pastor in Marshall County right now than anywhere else and I'm proud to be counted as one of those people of Marshall County."
Thomas noted Rotarians and others in service clubs, churches, or individuals acting on their own have responded to what the world has dealt in recent years.
"It's people taking care of people," the pastor said.
"We in the reform tradition celebrate Advent... We look back... We read the Prophets to see what God promised, and we look forward to when the Kingdom of God will come again.
"We are in the between times... This interim time is when pastors need to be pastoral to our folks.
"This is a season of giving comfort and joy."