2020 became a year of many unanticipated changes. While churches around the country scrambled to adjust to the new, they also worked hard to maintain the old traditions and ministries that made these churches who they are in the communities they serve.
One thing that didn’t change for the members of First United Methodist Church of Allen (FUMC Allen) was the need to encourage our soldiers serving our country and away from home during the holiday season. FUMC Allen’s Military Support Group (MSG) made sure that those men and women were remembered in 2020.
Twice a year, members of the MSG collect much needed care items and other items most requested by our soldiers overseas. The first collection in the spring is part of the community-wide initiative, “Change The World Allen,” a missions movement that began at FUMC Allen in 2012. The second–Stockings for Soldiers–is part of the annual Holiday Challenge, a missions challenge that begins in late October and runs through Christmas Eve.
Stockings for Soldiers has been a ministry at FUMC Allen for many years. “I have been sending stockings to our soldiers for more than 12 years now, long before Change the World started,” said Betty Matthews, a military mother and grandmother who is a driving force behind the MSG and the Stockings for Soldiers program.
Another MSG leader, Debbie Wilson said, “Our military support group started the program by mailing care packages in the small flat rate boxes. By 2009, the program grew and expanded into a larger church-wide project, which allowed us to send more stockings in bigger boxes. On average, we send out about 338 stockings each year. Since we’ve been keeping records 12 years ago, we’ve shipped more than 4,057 stockings to our military.”
“Our stockings may be the only thing some of them receive during the holidays,” said Wilson. “Our military needs to know that we care about them and pray for them, and this is one way to accomplish that and brighten their day.”
According to Matthews, church members and family members provide names of their soldiers overseas, and the MSG promotes the collection by soliciting items and donations from church members and other community organizations. “The financial support fills in when more items are needed and helps pay for postage to get the boxes mailed,” Matthews said. “This Christmas, we shipped 275 stockings and filled 24 boxes. This is one way we can make a difference!”
For several weeks, donations are gathered at the church and in the homes of MSG leaders. Then on the first Sunday in November, the Holiday Challenge kicks off with a large stocking stuffing party after worship. As quickly as possible, boxes are labeled and transported to the post office and sent on their way so that the stockings can arrive just as the holiday season begins.
From November to January, the church has received photos and thank you notes from soldiers in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and other locations in the Middle East. Master Sergeant Morris Hutchinson, a soldier from Plano, Texas, currently deployed in Kabul, received one of those shipments in November. His letter, shared below, expresses the gratitude of his troops for the people of North Texas:
“I wanted to reach out to you and parishioners of the First United Methodist Church, and thank you all for the amazing Christmas stockings that y’all sent out to us here. Literally, within minutes of opening the boxes, there was Christmas music playing on computers, and “Home Alone” started playing on the TV in back of our office! . . . Receiving these stockings, the prayer quilts, and the messages of faith have gone a long way in reminding me of why we are out here and about the great things that await us back home.”
“While I have received care packages from churches on previous deployments, these stockings are especially appreciated. 2020 has been a punishing, trying year for many Americans, for many Texans. I am sure many of your parishioners fall into this category, and still, you think about us. You found the time and the effort to put these together for the soldiers here in Afghanistan. That is incredibly kind of y’all, and I want to let you know how much we appreciate that.”
“Everyone here in my office received a stocking. Some of the remaining stockings will be passed out to soldiers manning the towers and our front gate. Others will go to our coalition force military partners–infantrymen from Scotland and Denmark. Thanks again for your kindness, and your thoughtfulness. It has gone a long way in brightening our day out here. God Bless, take care of one another and Happy Holiday’s from all of us.”
FUMC Allen shares their appreciation for every member and every organization who support these annual collections. In particular, the church shares a special gratitude for Debbie Wilson, Betty Matthews, and the MSG for keeping the program going each year: “It takes many volunteers to make this program work. We are proud of our church members and their generous contributions of time and donations for all these years,” said Wilson. “We hope it continues as long we have troops deployed and away from home.”