United in the Spirit of Giving
Nestled between Landgrove to the north and Bromley Mountain to the south, the village of Peru, Vermont, has a population of 363 and one small, lovely Congregational church. Inside the church is a hand-painted mural of local meadows and rolling hills in shades of verdant summer green. It brings a welcome reminder of warmer days during the long gray winters our state’s weather is prone to delivering. Our grandparents were married in this church in 1935 and our family has attended countless services here.
Our favorite service is always Christmas Eve. For years, our friend and local postman Kermit Reilly would deliver a Christmas sermon that was always warm, inspired, and joyful. This special service brought all sorts of folks together including many from outside the community and even from outside the state. The only limits were the small physical space and the creaking old floors which tended to sag and groan under the weight of so many temporary but enthusiastic parishioners.
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
The idea of a congregation is to include everyone in the community. All are welcome, and in Peru the entire community comes together to worship and to connect. Political differences and viewpoints are set aside and for at least one night of the year everyone is united in the spirit of giving.
At the end of the service we all stand in silence and darkness. Basking in the glow of flickering candles and the companionship of our fellow parishioners, together we sing “Silent Night,” just as we have since childhood. We feel deeply moved by love for one another. We feel a genuine spirit of forgiveness for those things we may loathe in ourselves and for grievances we may hold against others. Forgiveness is the very essence of what the church and its teachings represent, and it is one of the absolute hardest things to embrace in life.
When we are transported—however briefly—by the spirit of honesty, truth, hope, and togetherness, we may know that we are not alone in the world, no matter how lonely we feel. So, let us be reminded that we can feel this way more than once throughout the year, if we make the painstaking effort to reach out to those around us and invite other ideas, other cultures, other sensibilities, and other ways of life into our own lives and our own homes. After all, the most challenging essence of faith is not “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Any reasonable person can do so without too much of a struggle.
A more radical proposal is “Love thine enemy as thyself,” hard enough to embrace in spirit and infinitely harder to practice in real life. It takes real courage to swallow pride and allow oneself to feel the same compassion for a bitter adversary that we might lavish upon a cherished friend. But this we must do if we also accept the premise that what goes around, comes around. This is ultimately a risk we must take for the sake of our own salvation and one that is utterly worth taking. Fortunately, we may always trust that it is a risk we will never take alone. For when we walk together in life, we walk in grace.
Merry Christmas to You and Yours,
The Orton Family