What Makes a Meaningful Gift?


giftBy Susan Passi-Klaus* (article from UMNS)
Giving cost-free gifts isn’t always about low budgets or Scrooge-like reputations. Instead, freebies can be about kindness, memories, and creativity.  Thought-full-ness. Gifts of meaning and not money are bestowed out of gratitude for the difference someone has made in your life, or to make a difference in the life of another. A COTTON BALL A cotton ball is the best gift Ellen Troy McNish, a member of Christ United Methodist Church, Franklin, Tenn., said she ever received. After Ellen’s mom Dee died, distance kept her from helping her brother and sister organize their mother’s belongings. When her brother, Paul, surprised her at Christmas with a small wrapped box, Ellen couldn’t stop sniffling. “Inside there was an ordinary cotton ball, but it smelled familiar,” she said. “It smelled like my mom.” Apparently, Paul found the box with its scented puff while sorting through his mother’s closet.  It had a note inside, “Lest you forget me.” “My mom’s signature scent was Interlude,” Ellen said. “Mom had spritzed the cotton ball with a memory she knew would bring back memories for her children.” “Every once in a while I’ll open the box and the scent brings my mom right back to me,” she said. “I remember her warmth, the feel of her skin—it’s like being in her space again.” A JOURNAL Kathleen King, who attends Brentwood United Methodist, Brentwood, Tenn., also remembers how a gift from her mother helped get her through a particular holiday season. “Years ago, during a difficult time in my life, my mom gave me a little pocket-sized journal.” Kathleen said. “Inside the cover Mom wrote an affirming note and included several Scripture verses on the first few pages. Each Bible verse was chosen to give me hope and encouragement.” The pages in the rest of the book were left blank so Kathleen could fill them with verses, poems, notes, and “whatever I found along my way.” AN OLD BIBLE Childhood was a difficult time for Kathy Dozier. Abused by her father, she tried to stay away from home as often as possible, and frequently found refuge within her youth group at City Road United Methodist Church, Madison, Tenn. Later in life, when Kathy found out she was unable to have children, she took on the role of Santa Claus to her eight nephews. One year her nephew Jason had a present for her—for once the receiver instead of the giver. The gift was her tattered youth Bible missing for more than 20 years but found by Jason while he was attending vacation Bible school. In one of the margins, Kathy had written, “I do believe.” “I broke into tears,” Kathy said. “As I flipped through it, I remembered the people in my church family that took care of me during some very hard times. I’ve never received a gift so important to me.” DOLL CLOTHES Many of the best gifts are blessed surprises crafted with love by family members and friends. Fifty-plus years ago, young Sandie Funke never expected a Christmas gift at all. She and her five brothers and sisters were used to doing without over the holidays. Still Sandie’s mother, Eva Mae Reynolds, always found a way to scrape together a Christmas dinner and to find a tree her children could decorate. “We had many Christmases like that,” said Sandie, a lifelong member of Elkton United Methodist Church, Elkton, Md. “We weren’t sad. In fact, I never even realized I was poor.” One year, 8-year-old Sandie watched as her mom spent the months leading up to Christmas hand-making doll clothes for a neighbor’s daughter. Understandably, she envied the gowns made of sheets and white lace, stitched by her mother’s hands. “I knew the layette was being made for someone else, but I couldn’t help wishing it were mine,” she said. Come Christmas morning, for one of the few times in her childhood, there was a wrapped shoebox with Sandie’s name on it under the tree. Inside, under some tissue paper, was a small doll wearing the delicate layette Eva Mae had hand-stitched. “I had watched her make those clothes all those many months,” Sandie said. “I had no idea that they had been made just for me.” A BOX OF CHOCOLATES When Stephen Hundley was a child, his family would visit relatives after the Christmas Eve service. One year, when Stephen was ten, a new tradition began. His family made a trip to their new pastor’s home, bearing gifts from the congregation and themselves. The Rev. Edgar J. Nottingham opened the family’s gift very carefully—so the paper could be reused. “He looked in, carefully removed the wrapper and opened his mouth with great surprise,” Stephen said. “He declared ‘My, my’ and was clearly excited when he saw the (box of candy known as a) Whitman’s Sampler. He shared it with all of us with great excitement.” For many years beyond Rev. Nottingham’s appointment to Stephen’s Virginia church, the Hundley family continued to wrap a gift for the great family friend. “And you guessed it—a Whitman’s Sampler,” Stephen said. “He opened it, even in his last days some thirty years later, the same way—careful with the wrapping, looking in the end, a big ‘My, my,’ and an exciting sharing to follow.” “Isn’t this what it is like for us in Advent and Christmas?” asked Stephen, who is now a pastor himself and Executive Director of Connectional Ministries for the California-Pacific Conference. “We know what is going to happen, the Annunciation, the Visitation, Magnificat, the journey to Bethlehem and the blessed birth—and we look on in amazement the same way each year—‘My, my’ and share the story. May it never get ordinary—the same gift—never ordinary.” THE OLD, OLD STORY Every year around Christmas, Gilbert Lovell has an assigned job. No, it’s not untangling the lights or separating the tinsel. His task is to locate one particular well-worn box from the holiday decoration closet. Gilbert carefully unpacks the family Nativity scene handmade by his mother in the early 1960s. It’s “wobbly,” made from sticks, felt, straw, cracked glue and a few surviving nails. The figures are molded from plaster of Paris. A camel has lost his head. Joseph has seen better days. And the plastic palm trees are drooping. As he reconstructs the fragile stable stick by stick, and finds a place for the cattle, Wise Men and manger, he remembers the crafts-maker, his mother. “I am humbled by the heirloom Nativity that I am struggling to keep from collapsing,” he said. “But, most of all, I think of a lady who personified love and gentle grace to me.” “Just as it has been for the last 40 years, that nativity will be placed carefully on the corner of the hearth,” Gilbert said. “Because of where it came from, who made it, and the love it represents, I will probably cry a little and I will be thankful. Let the season begin!” *Susan Passi-Klaus is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn. News media contact: Joe Iovino, UMC.org,  at 615-312-3733.

Resources for Vital Congregations



Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor

GBHEM Leadership Resources


Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church

Englewood Book Review

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

Ted Talks: The Golden Circle

Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability

Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability

Design Thinking

Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians


Be A Disciple

A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network

Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations


Living As United Methodist Christians

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials

Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today

John Wesley Sermons: Anthology


Get Their Name

Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit

Canoeing the Mountains

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People

Community: The Structure of Belonging


Institute for Emerging Issues

Congregations 4 Children


The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants

The Duke Endowment


The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:

  • Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
  • Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.

We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at hfleming@wnccumc.net.


  • Resources
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