Opening our hearts, homes and churches to those in need
It was December 2011, and we had recently been blessed with our fourth child. We were living in northern Michigan. I was in a new job, far away from our family and still getting to know people when one of the worst snowstorms I’ve ever experienced struck.
Having spent most of my life in Wisconsin, snowstorms weren’t daunting. However, this one was fierce enough to knock out the power in the early stages, taking with it the house’s heat. The snow on the ground was like concrete due to the ice and cold, compared to the powder we more regularly are blessed with here in Vermont. In fact, a neighbor was kind enough to plow out our driveway with his frontend loader as the snowblower was not going to be up to the job.
As the temperature inside dropped during the storm, with no idea when power would be restored, the pastor at our church was kind enough to allow us to bundle into his rectory. We were grateful for the warmth and welcome. The next day the storm subsided, but power remained out. As nice as that rectory was, it wasn’t really set up for a large and young family among the priests who also resided there.
And so, we spent that day regularly checking on the house to see if the power had been restored. (This was before the time when all of this was automated and could be followed online). We spent a lot of time in the van that day. Eventually, another family from the parish took us in, inviting us to stay at their house until power was restored. We were welcomed with so much love, kindness and hospitality. I remain incredibly grateful for their kindness to this day.
Years later, we were privileged in some small way to pay it forward as another young family, with an infant, experiencing their first Vermont winter found themselves in a frigid and untenable situation. And we were blessed to reach out to them and invite them into the warmth of our home until their situation improved.
In our parishes and homes, we are called and have the opportunity, even the Christian duty, to welcome in those in need.
Two relevant notes on this:
A recent comprehensive report from the Springtide Research Institute affirmed that a majority of young people (78 percent) consider themselves spiritual; yet few of them reach out to their religious community. In fact, among Catholic young people who “are actively part of a spiritual community … only 21 percent reached out to that community during a difficulty.” We have an opportunity to change that number through intentional outreach and welcome so that our young people know they can come to us after the fashion of Christ.
And in lieu of the passing of Article 22 in Vermont and a culture that offers abortion as a solution, our churches need to be all the more a beacon of welcome and assistance to those in trying situations. The Walking with Moms in Need initiative should be present in every one of our parishes. And a mom in need should know that she can knock on the parish door and people will be ready and able to assist her.
As we celebrate the birth of our savior, may our own hearts, our own homes and our own churches be open to those in need; whether it be a snowstorm or life circumstances. And in so doing, may we both live out and share the “good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Lk 2:10), Jesus Christ.
—Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of pastoral ministries for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at [email protected].
—Originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.