December 2020
Our Newsletter this month is a bit different, in keeping with the season. Three women of our parish help us ponder and adapt to this time of waiting for the Lord and thinking about our Christmas traditions during a difficult and uncertain year.
Waiting for the Lord in Home and Heart
by Peggy Eastman, Poet-in-Residence
This year, it is likely that I may not be going to All Saints in person during Advent or Christmas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I will miss our choir singing the lovely, familiar Christmas carols, although happily we can attend our inspiring services virtually. I also may not be able to gather with my family, and that will be painful. This will be a different Christmas season.  
What I will do is take out take out my stored nativity set with its wooden stable, crèche and handcrafted figures. I remember seeing the large nativity scene at the back of our church sanctuary in years past, and pausing before the stable as figures were gradually added; the scene gave me so much comfort.  I saw the empty manger and knew the Christ child was coming and would soon be there, no matter how the world suffered with troubles and sorrows. As I stood quietly before that manger in our sanctuary year after year, my heart softened. I knew that nothing in this world could keep the baby Jesus out of the manger, or take away the joy of God’s most precious gift of Christmas. And so it is this year.
At home, I will get out my nativity set and carefully take the tissue-wrapped figures out of their wooden stable: the stalwart ox, the donkey with his long, pointed ears, gentle Mary kneeling in humility and Joseph standing stolidly and protectively. As Christmas approaches, I will tenderly unwrap the baby Jesus and place Him in His manger on a tiny piece of soft white cloth. The carver has crafted Him so that one arm is stretched out, and every year He seems to be reaching toward me in invitation. His eyes always seem fixed on mine.  “Come to me,” He seems to be saying.  Every year as I place the baby in the manger my tense shoulders ease, I smile and greet Him anew. For I know that no earthly trial can ever keep Jesus from my heart and my home.
Lord Jesus, You came as a little child to heal our sorrows and bring us salvation. Please let no trial, grief, or pain ever cause us to forget the joy of Your unsurpassed love for us.  
"Certainty" in an Uncertain World
A book review by Christin Ditchfield Lazo

We are blessed to have among us Christin Ditchfield Lazo, wife of our Seminarian, Andrew Lazo.  Christin is an author, speaker, and radio host, whose ministry has helped many discover new ways to walk deeper with the Lord on a daily basis.  She recommends here a book for this season by her late friend, Shelly Miller, also a trusted Christian ministry leader and leadership coach.
Recommended Reading: Searching for Certainty: Finding God in the Disruptions of Life by Shelly Miller (Harvest House, 2020)

"If you are allowing uncertainty in the world to determine how useful you are to God, maybe it's time to rethink who and what is informing your value and worth." ~ Shelly Miller

We all long for certainty in life, yet things often don't go as we expect. When facing illness, job loss, strained relationships, and other struggles, our impulse is to question God and strive to fix things ourselves.

In this profound book, Shelly shares how to reframe uncertain times and turn them into purposeful times of spiritual growth. She helps us learn how to break unhelpful habits and thought patterns, make decisions in faith rather than fear, and know deeper than ever before that God loves us not for what we know or do, but for who we are.

Adding poignancy and power to her message, Shelly explains in the Epilogue that the final edits of this book began as the pandemic suddenly swept across England (where she and her husband, an Anglican priest, were living), and as she received a shocking and terminal cancer diagnosis. 

Shelly continued to encourage and inspire by example, posting updates on her journey via social media ( and on her website, until her passing on November 1, 2020. Her legacy lives on, as she calls all of us to lean into the certainty of God's faithfulness and love, throughout the disruptions of life and in uncertain times.
Thoughts on a Polish Christmas
by Edyta Cousens, Communications Assistant
“Tis the season to be jolly!” and to be “extra careful!”

That seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? The sacrifices being asked of us this year may make us nostalgic - or even cause us to re-evaluate what Christmas and traditions are all about. As an immigrant, I know this painful examination all too well. The first Christmas with my US citizen husband was an intense clash of cultures that literally brought me to tears. Our expectations for spending that special time were so different, we nearly gave up and pretended that there was nothing to celebrate. All the comforts of gathering under a parental roof had been stripped away.  Sound familiar?

Thankfully the grace of Jesus prevailed and made even that first Christmas together memorable. More importantly, I came to the realization that I needed to guard and protect the customs that had meaning to me, mesh them with my husband’s, and create something new that we could pass on to our children. 

I realize now, as an adult, that the many of the traditions I grew up with were a humble lesson in waiting for the Lord. Some highlights of the Polish traditions:
  • About a week before Christmas there was a chance you would not get a bath … because there was a large carp swimming in the bathtub! My father would close the door one day and perform the ritual of killing it for our Christmas Eve dinner.
  • Then, on December 24th we observed a strict fast all day, until that special Christmas Eve Feast.
  • The tree was typically decorated at the last-minute, raising adrenaline and excitement to make sure everything was ready for Christ’s birth. Many decorations were made by hand during the prior season of Advent. 
  • When the dusk arrived, my sisters and I would press our faces to frosted windows looking out for the first star … only after spotting it could dinner commence. 
  • The Christmas table was set with our finest china; an additional setting was placed, in case a stranger knocked at our door. And that stranger would be Christ himself! 
  • Apart from the already mentioned carp, there were twelve other dishes (in honor of twelve apostles), including borscht with “little ears” (a type of ravioli), cabbage, poppy seed noodles, and so much more … everything was vegetarian! 
  • The key component of the Christmas Eve Dinner was a thin rectangular wafer symbolizing Christ’s body that we would place on top of dried hay as a centerpiece. Everyone got a piece and after the prayer we would go around and break it with each other while passing on best wishes and hopes for the New Year. Imagine doing that on an empty stomach! Then finally, the Feast could begin.
  • The true Christmas would start with a midnight Eucharist and carol singing (for those resilient ones, who could stay up). 
  • The next day after festive lunch (where meat was finally served!) we would often take a family stroll around different churches admiring displays of Nativity scenes. (The centuries-old tradition of building and displaying Nativity Sets in my home town of Krakow, was granted UNESCO special status in 2018, added to the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” register.)

You may find some Polish traditions unusual, if not bizarre. But my parents’ dedication to each task and custom translated into a beautiful expression of servitude and love. And I will treasure for a lifetime the Christmas memories they gave me.
Nativity at the Franciscan Church in Sanok. (Above)
Nativity scene by Bronisław Pięcik. (Left)
Christmas markets are held in every major city, especially in Kraków.
Did you miss the November issue of Connect? All Saints parishioners and staff focused particularly on our gratitude and thanks during the season of Thanksgiving during a difficult year for so many.

Previous issues of the Connect! celebrate God's faithfulness to us:

Please join us in continuing to celebrate the good news of God working in our midst - ideas for the Connect newsletter are always welcome! You may submit possible topics, photos, or short (1 - 3 paragraph) articles to Communications Manager Teri Ballou.

For the January issue, we'd love to hear - and see! - how All Saints celebrated Christmas this year. Was it different than previous years? What did it mean to You? Have any good family photos - or even some funny "photo fails" to share? Deadline for the January issue is Wednesday, December 30.
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