Lamp­post coats

The Weekly Vista - - Religion - FA­THER KEN PARKS Ken Parks is the for­mer rec­tor of St. Theodore’s Epis­co­pal Church in Bella Vista. He can be reached by email at frken­[email protected]­ Opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

Brenda and I moved to Bella Vista dur­ing May of 2005. We had lived in Fort Smith and Texas be­fore com­ing to Bella Vista. The St. The­o­r­dore’s Search Comit­tee had done a good job of telling us abouth the church, but we were dis­cov­er­ing that liv­ing in Bella Vista was not like any other com­mu­nity we had called home. There­fore, one Sun­day, I asked the St. The­o­r­dore con­gre­ga­tion to tell us some­thing they had ex­pe­ri­enced that they thought we needed to know. That ended up fos­ter­ing a lot of help­ful in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing the ob­ser­va­tion of a long­time res­i­dent.

He said that an im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber about Bella Vista is the “garage-sale phe­nom­ena” and the un­der­ly­ing emo­tional and spir­i­tual con­se­quences of those sales. We later had cof­fee and he ex­plained his com­ment. He said af­ter new res­i­dents have pur­chased a home and are in the plan­ning stages of mov­ing to Bella Vista, they prob­a­bly had a garage sale. What was sold or given away had min­i­mal emo­tional at­tach­ment. Af­ter they have moved into their new home, there were most likely un­opened mov­ing boxes in the garage. There were path­ways in the house be­cause it was filled with stuff.

That new re­al­ity cre­ates a de­ci­sion to buy a big­ger house, rent a stor­age locker, or have a “post move-in garage sale.” Grief be­gins to seep in through the seams as they watch strangers take away their trea­sures. As the life cy­cle moves ever on­ward, there are more tears and down­siz­ing on the hori­zon.

What prompted this re­mem­brance was a pic­ture and a post I re­ceived in Novem­ber from The Rev. Pam Morgan, the rec­tor of St. Thomas in Spring­dale. The pic­ture was of the Bul­gar­ian cus­tom of peo­ple at­tach­ing an ex­tra coat from their clos­ets to a lamp­post. The cus­tom in­vites peo­ple that are lack­ing a warm coat to take one of the lamp­post coats. No strings at­tached. Rev. Pam Morgan’s note that came with the pho­to­graph read, “Ken, what do you think?” I replied, “Let’s do it.” (Back­ground: we serve over 100 meals to those in need ev­ery Tues­day.)

We talked with staff and other lead­ers of the church and the con­sen­sus was to try it. Be­fore I made the an­nounce­ment to the con­gre­ga­tion, I went to our coat closet and found my “for­got­ten” coat. The many times that I have read and preached on John’s words in Luke’s Gospel, “Who­ever has two coats must share with any­one who has none.” I had not dug down deep enough to ap­pre­ci­ate the depth of John’s words. I had par­tic­i­pated in other coat drives and I usu­ally bought, as some­times di­rected, new coats or gave those that we had out­grown. But the coat in my hands fit and had trav­eled with me for many years. I was wear­ing it dur­ing fam­ily pic­tures and dur­ing times of great joy and tragedy. It was my beloved coat! I had not worn it in sev­eral years be­cause I had an­other that was also loved and a part of fam­ily events.

The con­gre­ga­tion liked the idea and went to their clos­ets and do­nated coats. On Dec. 16, 2018, we put 60 coats outdoors on lamp­posts and on the shrub­bery and we left for our homes. I re­turned later that night and col­lected the 12 coats left un­claimed and gave them to a local shel­ter as per our agree­ment. Our con­gre­ga­tion is still un­pack­ing our coat sto­ries and shar­ing them with one an­other.

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