Recently I received an e-mail from a woman who had heard that Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis was not allowing any celebration of Christmas for fear of offending non-Christian employees or patients. The e-mail went on to complain about how our United Methodist Church is "taking Christ out of Christmas."
I was pretty sure she was wrong about Methodist Hospital, but I forwarded her e-mail on to Dan Evans, the President/CEO of Clarian Health Partners which includes Methodist Hospital. Dan is an active United Methodist layman and a member of Meridian Street UMC in Indianapolis, and he is someone I have gotten to know and appreciate this year. I said to Dan, "I am sure she is wrong, but how can I answer her?"
Dan wrote a wonderful answer, which he allowed me to share with the woman. She was reassured by his response, and his response made me proud to be a United Methodist. I share excerpts with you, because Dan describes the ways in which we all can find Christmas this year.
After reading your message last night, I decided to tour the hospital this morning looking for signs of the meaning of [Christmas] as a Christian holiday. Those signs abound everywhere I went.
The cross shines brightly on the Methodist Hospital lighthouse overlooking the City. It is decorated in traditional Christmas lights. NOBODY can enter the downtown areas without seeing this bright symbol of our faith and season we celebrate. The entire campus is surrounded on the exterior with traditional Christmas lightning. These decorations extend for blocks and blocks and are seen by tens of thousands of people a day. As you enter the main lobby of the hospital, you are greeted by a large...very large...cr?he. The Baby Jesus greets all of our visitors. In fact, His is the first face you see as you enter the building. A few yards away is a Christmas tree and a few yards beyond that is a Christmas Toyland for children. Santa's chair is all set up and we think he will be here soon. Every hallway I walked had trees or poinsettias or both. I greeted an employee wearing a Santa hat as she entered her work area and she, in fact, said "Merry Christmas" to me.
More than that, on Christmas day I will be here personally greeting patients and thanking the employees, Christian and non Christian, for doing the Lord's work on a day when the vast majority of our brothers and sisters are at home. We will have nearly a thousand patients in the downtown hospitals on that day, the emergency room will be fully staffed and busy, the surgical suites will be handling trauma cases, and literally thousands of employees will be caring for patients in the spirit of the Day, just as they do every day.
Yes, we have Christian and non Christian employees and patients. We must be respectful of these differences 365 days a year. Respect is a profound part of the healing process and it is what we are all about. No doubt whatever this laywoman heard or thinks derives out of some misinterpretation of our diversity. However, even the most casual visitor cannot miss the signs of our roots and meaning this Christmas season.
I appreciate Dan's reminder that Christmas is found not just in the decorations and festivities of the season, but in the ways we minister to persons in the name and spirit of Christ. That is where we will find Christmas.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner