Dear RCC family,
You’re receiving this “Letter from the Family” as part of our celebration of the birth of Christ. It’s an opportunity for you to enjoy a Christmas memory with a member of your RCC family. Thanks to Louise Eaton for sharing an inspirational and international Christmas moment.
I think I learned the power of an invitation most strongly on Christmas Eve, 1975. I lived in a small village just outside of Paris. I had left home alone by choice and had already been away some seven months, plenty of time to face down homesickness, but, of course, the holiday brought with its sweetness an increased sense of isolation and distance from loved ones. The French scholastic holidays meant I did not even have work to distract me. My method of coping was either trips into Paris or long walks around my village. At 8 p.m. it was already too late for Paris, as all the trains stopped running by midnight, and so bundled against the cold, I set out for a solitary walk.
Around three corners from the small school where I had an apartment, at just about the only significant intersection in town, the small Catholic church sat across from a café and a small shop, across from the little train station. As I approached it, I met several of my students, standing out in the cold, holding the halters of a motley collection of animals, two sheep, a goat, a calf, and one dog as big as a pony. They greeted me: “Joyeux Noël.” Dragging their animals with them, they came up and shook my hand, the traditional French show of respect for teachers, and began talking to me rapidly in a mix of French and poor English. The gist: they were awaiting their cues to enter the church for their roles in the Christmas pageant—the shepherds’ adulation of the baby born in Bethlehem.
“Quick,” they told me, “you just have time to sneak into the back before the show starts.” One of the boys, Jean-Yves, handed off his goat to another to hold and took my hand and led me into the small church (smaller than RCC!) and seated me to the left, whispering that I would have the best view of him from there.
I had not dared even to enter this little church before, feeling intrusive, going instead to English-language services or traditional Latin masses in Paris where I was always left alone, lost in a crowd. The entire congregation turned to look at me, and I smiled and nodded. I only knew their children who were in my English classes, but they all knew me. Above the small organ, I heard murmurs of Christmas greetings. They had literally pulled me in off the street. While my French was then barely adequate, the familiar story unfolded before me without any translation needed, accompanied by hymns, many of the familiar too.
Such a small thing, a greeting and an invitation. My clearest memory of that night was walking home an hour or two later, filled with good food from the small buffet in the parish hall after the pageant. It was colder than it had been earlier, I was just as alone as before, and the apartment I entered was still empty, but I felt neither the cold nor the solitude. My entire being was suffused with Christmas spirit, a sense of the blessing of that amazing gift, and of celebrations worldwide as well as at home, sharing the same awe in hundreds of languages. I was invited in from the cold, not just by my students and the local parish, but by love of God. I hope you feel and share that invitation this year.
Rev. Conway is an Ordained Minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He was ordained by the Kentucky Region in May 1986 when he completed his Masters degree in Divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary. Rev Conway also holds an Associates in Applied Science and a Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of KY.