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Vital Congregations Quarterly Newsletter


Inside this Issue

The Initiative | Community Connections | Vital Reflections  | Show Your Marks

The Initiative

Seasons Greetings from the Office of Vital Congregations

The Office of Vital Congregations wants to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. In so doing, we would like to share with you our favorite Christmas recipes and traditions. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we do and perhaps make some of your own!

My family has holiday traditions that we enjoy year after year. On December 2nd, my sisters and I put up a Christmas tree in respective homes. It can be a big tree or a table top tree. We do this to honor and remember our father, Edward Rudolph Obey. December 2nd, was his birthday. Every Christmas Eve, my husband Jerry and I watch, It’s a Wonderful Life and The Preacher’s Wife. On Christmas morning, the Cannon’s sit around the table and enjoy homemade waffles from scratch (well almost scratch). They are delicious! We gather and take a Christmas photo on the stairway. Here are a few of them.

In all things we give thanks to God for family, fun and food as we celebrate the birthday of Jesus!

Veronica’s Favorite Christmas Holiday recipe! Waffles!
2 cups of flour (I use Aunt Jemima and regular flour )
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of melted butter
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups of milk
3 tablespoons of sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder

Mix all dry ingredients. Separate egg whites from yokes. Mix yokes and milk together. Add to dry ingredients and butter. Finally whip egg whites and then fold into batter. That’s it. Use your favorite syrup and toppings. Enjoy!

I have a tough time writing about Christmas traditions, not that I grew up in a troubled household or anything of the sort, in fact, my upbringing was wonderful, and my parents always went out of their way to make sure Christmas was wonderful for the family. Now, I have a tough time writing about Christmas traditions because of the time I’ve spent with those who have had a more difficult upbringing and have had less than wonderful families and less than wonderful holidays. For those with a less than “ideal” childhood or family (however either of those terms is defined) Christmas, really all holidays where families gather, can be challenging and hurt-filled. It’s a time when “loved ones” gather and that can be painful…emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The gathering together of those individuals who were supposed to provide unconditional love and acceptance, whether we’re gathering with them or we see others gathering with their “loved ones”, can remind us of pain, hurt, frustrations, and trauma.

For the kids in foster care, I worked with, Christmas was a painful reminder of all that was missing. A reminder of all that was wrong. A reminder of all the times that life let them down. For those kids in foster care, Christmas became a time of lofty promises, made with the best intentions by birthparents who were themselves hurting, that would inevitably lead to broken hearts and increased behavior issues as those little ones tried to make sense of the broken world; one they were exposed to at far too young an age.
“Well, we have a God that keeps promises and it’s we only need to remember that God always comes through, so put your trust in God”. This is not a helpful response. It’s true, but not helpful. We have faith in a God who keeps promises, and yet those who have been broken by the brokenness of the world often need something else on which to hang their hopes, dreams, and hearts. Simply saying “God keeps promises” or “trust God” can come off as trite as if we’re dismissing the real hurt that real-world brokenness carries.

My “favorite Christmas tradition” is remembering how absolutely and positively messy, dirty, chaotic, and different the plan of the birth of Christ really was. It’s certainly not the nice and neat story of children’s books! It was, well, just like life. Life certainly is messy, dirty, and chaotic, and it rarely matches the plan. The tradition I find most comforting during Christmas is recalling how God uses the messy, dirty, chaotic, and unplanned for God’s will, that we don’t have to have a “picture perfect” tradition or celebration to have a Merry Christmas, and that God is in the midst.

Tony’s Mashed Potato Non-recipe

I do most of my cooking at Thanksgiving. Both my mom and my mother-in-law are excellent cooks and I’m more than happy to have them cook at Christmas, especially after leading Christmas Eve worship! While I don’t have a Christmas recipe, I do have a cooking tip!
One Thanksgiving I needed to cook the potatoes for mashed potatoes, but I was running out of pots and pans. Even if there were enough pans, there wasn’t enough space in the oven! I was out of cooking space. That’s when I made a choice that changed how I cook potatoes. I tossed them in the slow cooker! The cooking tip is to cook your potatoes in the slow cooker. It saves time, space in the oven, and they’re super easy to check.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Clean all the potatoes, skin them if you want, or wash really well.
  2. Add chicken broth, milk, or both. I do about 2 cups of liquid for 5lbs of spuds. It’s ok to add more if you feel it’s needed.
  3. From time to time, I’ll add rosemary and thyme to the potatoes as they roast. No need to dice the herbs. Use kitchen twine to tie them in a bundle that you can easily remove when the potatoes are done. The flavor will be subtle, but it will be delightful.
  4. Turn on the slow cooker. That’s it!

Added bonus!

If you want to add a new layer of flavor to your mashed potatoes, or any leftovers, add roasted garlic. This is easy to do at the same time as the potatoes. To roast garlic, you need a head of garlic. Cut the top third off the head of garlic. It’s kind of tricky so be careful. Drizzle the garlic with extra virgin olive oil; just enough to make the top a little damp, maybe a tablespoon’s worth. Wrap the garlic in foil and toss it into the slow cooker! I’ll usually add 3-4 heads of garlic to the slow cooker so I can have roasted garlic for leftovers and other dishes.

During the holiday season, I love having opportunities to engage with the community, help those in need, and most importantly share a legacy of giving with my son. My dad was big on “giving back” to the community. He took Jesus’ words seriously – it is more of a blessing to give than to receive. Every year at Christmas time, we would assemble 100-200 fruit baskets filled with candy, assorted nuts, and fruit to give away. He used a part of his savings every year, and I loved chipping in to help.

Since his passing, I have tried to find ways to continue to serve and share our family legacy of giving with my son, David. Serving with David is my way of continuing to honor my dad, and although I’m not a huge saver like he was, I look for small ways to give what I have and to keep his legacy alive.

Last year we packed fifty snack bags for the unhoused in our community filled with a variety of non-perishable items, socks, and a note of encouragement. We delivered them all to Exit 0, a homeless outreach organization in our area for distribution. We’re planning to do something similar this year and encourage you to do the same!

Merry Christmas from the Edwards Family

Marla’s Hugs
Mini pretzels
Hershey’s Hugs
Candy coated chocolate (I love M&M’s)

Spread pretzels on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Place one Hug in the center of each pretzel and bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the chocolate is soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Immediately press a candy in the center of the melty hug. Place in fridge or freezer to allow chocolate to harden. Store hugs in an airtight container or package for gifts!

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Community Connections


As we approach the holiday season, it’s essential to remember that this time of year can bring mixed emotions for many. While the festive decorations, joyful carols, and gatherings with loved ones can fill our hearts with warmth, they can also serve as painful reminders of those we’ve lost, the challenges we’ve faced, or the struggles we’re currently enduring. This complex mix of emotions often leads to what some call a “Blue Christmas.”

In the midst of the bustling holiday preparations, it’s vital to recognize and honor the very real experiences of sadness, loneliness, and grief that some may be facing. As a pastor, I have encountered many individuals who find themselves in a state of “blue” during this season, and I want to offer some reflections and guidance for those who may be struggling.

First and foremost, it’s essential to remember that your feelings are valid. Grief and loss don’t adhere to a schedule, and it’s okay to experience sadness and longing, even when the world around you is celebrating. The psalmist reminds us that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Our faith encourages us to bring our pain and sorrow to God, who understands and empathizes with our suffering.
During this season, it can be helpful to find a community of support. Whether it’s through your local church, a grief support group, or trusted friends and family, sharing your feelings with others who can offer compassion and understanding can provide immense comfort. In VCI and the denomination, we believe in the power of fellowship and prayer, and we can rely on one another in times of need.

Moreover, consider creating your own meaningful traditions that honor the memory of loved ones or reflect your current circumstances. Lighting a special candle, placing a photo on the mantle, or volunteering to help those in need can be ways to find solace and purpose in this season. It’s important to adapt and celebrate in a way that feels right for you, rather than conforming to societal expectations.

Finally, remember that there is hope even in the midst of the “Blue Christmas.” The birth of Jesus, the central figure of our Christian faith, represents the promise of God’s love, redemption, and the possibility of new beginnings. While it’s okay to grieve, let us also hold onto the hope that, in time, healing and renewal can come.

This “Blue Christmas,” let us hold onto our faith and find comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone in our struggles. God’s love is ever-present, and we have a community that cares for us. Together, we can navigate the “blue” and find moments of peace and hope in the midst of the holiday season.

Vital Reflections

Reflection from Rev. Veronica Cannon, Coordinator, Office of Vital Congregations

Christmas Greetings One and All,

I love this time of year. It is my favorite time of year. I love all the activity. We celebrate Advent in the church, a season of hope, peace, love, and joy! Churches are decorated with Chrismons and wreaths. Homes are decorated with colorful lights and Christmas trees. Christmas parties are in full tilt. There are a lot of celebrations and many joy-filled people who gather to spend time with family and friends.
Christmas meals are being prepared, turkey and dressing, hens, duck, collard greens, sweet potatoes, rice and gravy or mashed potatoes, salads, cranberries, and eggnog. There are apple pies baking, and homemade ice cream being made. Holiday music is played on the radio, church choirs are singing to the glory of Jesus, telling of his birth. There is the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers, gift wrap, tape, and bows. Children are gleeful and excited about Santa’s pending trip from the North Pole to deliver toys and candy delights in stockings hung by the chimney with care. Christmas movies are on the television twenty-four hours a day (much to my delight). Yes, I like sappy Christmas movies. Most people are merry, some mean and Grinch-like. But it never gets old for me. During the Christmas season and into the new year, there is a lot of life, a lot of energy, a lot of… vitality. So live life fully. We go this way once. Make your life count. Live out loud, or quietly if that suits you better. But live. Live in hope, live in peace, live in love, and live in joy! May this season be all that and more for you. Be Vitality Strong now and in the new year. God bless you all!

Show Your Marks

We are grateful to God for all of the participants of the Vital Congregations Initiative and look forward to hearing about all of the exciting ways God is moving in your midst.

We pray for God’s richest blessings for you TODAY and in the New Year!