We asked Holston Conference pastors to share their favorite Christmas gifts from congregants over the years. Here's what they said.
“There was a couple in one of my churches that would always be sure to invite me to their house to have Christmas Eve dinner before our Christmas Eve services. They always included me in their ‘Christmas family,’ and it was a gift that I continue to treasure." - Rev. Melissa Smith, Kodak UMC
“While serving a country congregation in the early 1970s, we were hard up financially. A couple gave us an oil lamp that had a hundred-dollar bill in the globe and in the base. I still remember their kindness and still have the lamp.” - Rev. Thomas Conley
“Chocolate fudge that I was able to share at Christmas Eve Service.” - Rev. Daniel Moore, retired
“The one gift that comes to mind was a bald-headed man’s brush that has no bristles. The children had come down for children’s time during worship, and one announced that they had me a gift. It was the bald-headed man’s brush. We had a great laugh that Sunday.” - Rev. Rusty Taylor, director of congregational development
“A stone shaped like a heart from a homeless man who told me it was given to him by a woman that he thought was an angel. I still have it on my desk.” - Rev. Sherry Cothran Woosley, St. Marks UMC-Northshore, Chattanooga
“My favorite gift was one we turned down. In our first full-time church, I was preparing to head off to Costa Rica on a mission trip. My wife was not going. A gentleman in that congregation offered to pay her entire way so we could go together. Since DeAnne is a schoolteacher and that would involve too many days off from work, she couldn’t go. Regardless, the offer to let us go together meant the world to us. Instead, they fed DeAnne and watched over her while I was out of the country. It was love in action.” - Rev. Brian Burch, First Pearisburg UMC
“A handmade Christmas card from my youth.” - Rev. Jackie McGowan, Dungannon Circuit
“In 1985, my church gave me a trip to Israel with the Holston Conference group. It was an unforgettable experience which I still think about today!” - Rev. Meg Taylor, retired
“We were at my husband's first appointment in the Kentucky Conference for nine years. Each year after the children's Christmas play, they presented us with a little potted evergreen with money tied to it in red ribbon. The amount of money on the tree each year exactly matched what our car maintenance cost was at the time. We have been gifted lots of wonderful experiences and things, but nothing is as humbling and special as that small congregation abundantly giving to our young family.” - Joy Jones, spouse of the Rev. Jerry Jones, Asbury UMC, Greeneville
“At our last church, a friend took us to the Opryland Hotel and gave us a beautiful room. That evening, he took us to see the Radio City Rockettes.” - Corrina Sisk-Casson, spouse of the Rev. Gerald Casson, Wesley Memorial UMC, Johnson City
"When I served a church in Virginia, our lay leader was a man named Walter Goode. The night before Christmas, Walter went to the hospital and died before I could arrive. I cried as I touched Walter's still-warm forehead. Later I found out that as he lay in the emergency room, Walter was so worried about getting the Christmas money to me that he called another church member to tell him where the money was. Definitely the best gift given with the most sincerity." - Rev. Ken Sauer, Red Bank UMC
“My birthday is December 9. Last year it snowed on my birthday. So one of the members baked me a cake and gave it to me for Christmas. So I got to celebrate my birthday with Jesus last year. Best birthday and Christmas ever.” - Rev. Barbara Doyle, Shady Grove/ Meadowview UMC, Abingdon
“Most memorable perhaps: A gift certificate to Auto Zone. Never did figure out that one.” - Rev. Jim Whedbee, retired
“The Masons had invited me over for Christmas dinner. There were lots of invitations that year. I was alone for the first time in many years. My wife had just resigned as the pastor’s wife in late summer. It was painful, embarrassing, and simply the darkest place I had ever been.
After Christmas dinner at the Masons, it was gift-exchange time. Trish Mason reached behind the tree and pulled out a package about 2 ½ feet by 1 ½ feet. She handed it to me. The package was from their seven-year-old son.
I was perplexed. I opened the paper and there were two pieces of wood connected in the middle by a bevy of nails. Some were hammered. Some had been knocked in by stones. A few made it all the way through both pieces of wood. Most did not and were bent over at various angles and lengths. It was a cross.
It seems that one day the little Mason boy had disappeared. His parents searched for him for an hour. He finally came in from a corner of the barn, dragging his construction project.
“Where have you been?” Trish asked. “We have looked everywhere for you!”
“See, Mommy?” the little boy said, holding up the cross. “I made this for Pastor Don. He will be alone this Christmas, and I didn’t want him to go without a present.”
That was why I got the dinner invitation from the Masons. I must confess, it was the best Christmas present from a church member ever.
The cross has gone up in every church study I have occupied since that first appointment in Silver Springs, New York."
- Rev. Don Smith, Central UMC, Radford