By Suzanne Roath*
“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NRSV)
The stable stood there in the snow next to the white church. An odd sight given here it was the last week of February. Most nativity scenes have long been moved to storage. Christmas was over two months ago. Not likely there were any farm animals about using it for shelter or feed as it was the middle of town. Yet, here this stable, made of rough-hewn wood, stood firmly fixed next to Park United Methodist Church (Western Reserve District) in Madison.
Close examination reveals that the stable is not empty. Figurines of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the three wisemen, and farm animals have been replaced with hand-knitted, crocheted hats, mittens, scarves, blankets and socks in Ziploc bags. Each bag is clipped to one of the long, wide ribbons hanging along the front of the stable. Each bag is labeled with a message and identifies the type and size of the knitted or crocheted item. Banners in white and blue hark “New Beginnings” and “Blessings” run down the stable’s front posts.
According to Park UMC’s Pastor Donna Maruschak, 350 hats, mittens, scarves, blankets and socks have been found by those in need since the project began in January. People come all hours of the day and night to the New Beginnings/Blessings stable.
“We are here to help. The world we live in depends on people helping people. When we help others, it makes a wonderful difference in our lives as well. There is no better way to strengthen our hearts than to lift someone else up in God’s love,” said Maruschak, who added that the stable project along with the church’s Saturday Bread Room has been “especially helpful to those in need during the added stress of the pandemic.”
It is fitting that like the stable in the Bible, a symbol in the Christmas celebration of Christ’s birth, Park United Methodist Church has been an abiding beacon of faith in the community since it was established in 1865.
The sturdy New Beginnings/Blessings stable was built and donated by the DePledge family in 2018 for use in the annual Madison Christmas parade. The family stored the stable until the Spring of 2020. The stable was then delivered and placed next to the church’s outdoor message board. Attempts to move the heavy, one piece stable by several members of the church were futile. The stable sat empty until the Fall of that year when church members decided to decorate the stable by the season and corresponding holidays. Local business owner Sheila Hullihan volunteered her decorating services. Church members hosted a live nativity scene that December.
In January 2021, a suggestion was made to fill the stable with donated mittens, hats, scarves, blankets and socks free for the taking to the surrounding community. Word spread via Facebook about the stable and all that it offered. “Within days two ladies, Bobbi Wagoner and Andrea Williams of Madison, called and volunteered to knit and crochet needed mittens, scarves, and hats,” Maruschak shared. “We also received numerous donations of yarn for these ladies to use. These two wonderful gals enabled us to donate another 150 hats, mittens and scarves to two local elementary schools.”
The New Beginnings/Blessings stable will continue to offer the handmade hats, mittens, scarves and socks until Spring is estimated to arrive around March 19-21. Plans are in the works to decorate and utilize the stable throughout the Easter season. Community members in need are also encouraged to visit the church’s Bread Room located in the Wesley Wing every Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. until 12 noon. The Bread Room offers free bread and other bakery items, and canned and boxed goods donated by Giant Eagle of Madison.
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Suzanne Roath is a member of Madison Park United Methodist Church.