Think of the excitement that builds as you anticipate the coming of a special celebration. Whether you plan for a visitor, a celebration of life’s milestones such as a wedding, graduation or retirement, a holiday or birth of a child, there is so much preparation that happens before the event. For me, it always entails shopping, cleaning the house, organizing schedules, and mentally preparing for the meaning of the celebration. Often I spend more time in preparation than in celebration and then there is what comes after. New or stronger relationships are made, memories created, or lives take a new focus or direction. All three aspects of the celebration, preparation, and impact are connected.
Faith communities across the world are beginning a time of anticipation in celebration of Christmas through the season of Advent. Among the hustle and bustle of shopping and decorating, there is the imperative need for prayerful and spiritual preparation to embrace the meaning of the season better. The weekly themes during Advent of HOPE, PEACE, JOY AND LOVE are not only meant to be integrated into our preparation and celebration but also during the season of Christmas and throughout our lives. These themes and meaning of the seasons of Advent and Christmas are central to the mission of the Ministry of Safe Environment.
This ministry is one of HOPE and anticipation for a new direction and a new focus for the Church. Just as Advent preparation leads us to the celebration of the birth of Christ, there is necessary preparation in anticipation of welcoming, caring for, and working with the most vulnerable in our faith and larger communities. Our need and emphasis on preparation show that the most vulnerable are important and are our priority. This is the mission of the Safe Environment Ministry.
In this ministry, we strive to help individuals, families, and the Church as a whole to find PEACE and healing in their suffering. We seek justice and PEACE through a renewal of trust hopefully found in efforts of responsibility, accountability and transparency. We all can be responsible for individually following the requirements of training, background checks, and reporting when working with vulnerable populations. We also need to share in holding each other accountable for following the policies and procedures. One way to show transparency is to acknowledge the suffering caused by those representing the Church and continuing to put the needs of victim-survivors at the forefront of all efforts.
JOY is found in the truth that the dignity freely given to all people comes from God. We teach our youth in faith formation classes of their dignity and the dignity of all and to seek help in protecting that dignity. JOY is expressed in how we show one another our belief in their dignity and treat them with respect. In the darkness of division, harassment, attacks and violence, the light of Christ shines in the dignity of each of us. May we ensure that the JOY of the Light of Christ is reflected in our hearts, words and actions.
This ministry of Safe Environment is based on the LOVE of God for all people. In response to the LOVE that God freely gives us through Christ, may we honor and reflect that LOVE towards the needs of each other. Expectations, disappointment, and painful memories are at risk of overshadowing the reality of God’s LOVE for us during this Advent and Christmas Season. May we seek to understand and have empathy for those who find this time of year difficult due to past harm, grief and sadness. My prayer is that everyone may find this time of year to be an opportunity for a renewed understanding of the HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE that the birth of Christ brought to our world.
The Christ child in the celebration of Christmas represents the poor, the vulnerable and those in need of care. We are called to be spiritually and prayerfully prepared to be genuinely present to honor the dignity and the presence of Christ in all those we meet. And most of all, we need to reflect on the importance of encountering Christ within the Advent and Christmas season and encountering Christ in those we meet and serve so to be life-changing. It is up to us to let these encounters increase our compassion, understanding of each other’s dignity and how Christ speaks to us through each other. Opening our hearts to this message of Christmas will undoubtedly continue to strengthen our efforts to ensure a safe environment not only within our church but within our local community and the world. As all individuals and families prepare for Christmas, with their traditions, so we all have a role in the necessary preparation to ensure our church communities are places of security, comfort and respect.