The Bell Tower
This past Christmas Eve service our three children lit the advent wreath at the late 11:00 p.m. service. Actually they did that at our very first late service when they were much younger. We kept them up late, but Santa came anyway. We've been doing this a long time. We sometimes tell people that we have only lived in Franklin for twenty-one years. That may sound like a lot to some, but when you get to serve in a church in the Franklin historic district with those who can claim to be seventh generation Franklinites and Williamson Countians (if that's the way to put it), twenty-one years doesn't seem so long. As many of you know, we moved here because of the opportunity in this church to do many things we love--preaching, caring for folks, music. We moved here to be near family in Nashville. And, we moved here because it is a place where we would be, and have been, happy for our children to grow up. Part of the joy of this place is having had our three children in the area schools, Liberty, Freedom (Intermediate and Middle), and Centennial.
Our children were not always thrilled to say what we did for a living when they were students. One of them (guess which one) even told his class that I was a police officer so as to avoid saying that I was "a preacher." I think they worried their friends would think they would try to convert them, or something like that. We didn't teach them to do that. We taught them to keep an open mind and to learn from their teachers and also from others. Some of those 'others' were people who didn't claim to be especially religious. Some were people who were adherents of other faiths--Jewish, Hindu, Muslim. While we are not as diverse in this county as some other places, what diversity there was and is we have appreciated, and we wanted them to as well.
I like to think this is a place others can appreciate as well. Recently I read of a director of the Muslim study center in Columbia who moved to Wil- liamson County because he felt it would be a "safe environment" for his son to grow up. He should know. That center was torched in 2008 in a hate crime by white supremacists making so-called Christian claims. I hope he's right about us, that ours is a safe environment for his son, and all of our sons and daughters, because I'd like ours to be that kind of place, just as it has been for us and our children.
Historic Franklin Presbyterian Church is in a unique position to help make our community that kind of place, because of where we are, and because of what we have the opportunity to say. Anyone who goes to our Christmas Eve services knows that we draw from the larger community. The earli- er service, of course, is sort of a Bethlehem mayhem that maybe matches the sudden chorus of angels in the fields where shepherds kept their flocks by night. The later one we appreciate also because it feels closer to that chance for wise ones to bow down in a quiet manger and offer gifts. We're glad that people come to either service, and I imagine that many from the community who come may not even consider themselves especially reli- gious, or may be of a different religion. But, we have never seen Christmas Eve as some kind of opportunity to convert people. We see it as a chance to share in some good news--what we call gospel--about a child and savior who brings peace and good will and just might save us from all of our world's warring ways.
It's important that we provide that good news in our community. Many words around us have little peace or good will in them. One area group paints Muslim-Americans uniformly as a threat. Their so-called 'facts' are loosely drawn from internet declarations. They remind me of the careless por- trayals of African-Americans in the deep south where I was raised, portraying them as threats to our way of life rather than fellow citizens who hope for the same kinds of communities my family and I hope for. Those portrayals, and these more recent ones, were meant to create fear, fear of people who are different from us. They are no more based in facts than the way some vigorous secularists portray us Christians as ignorant and intolerant, or more to the point, they take isolated facts and certain segments of any religious community and pretend that's how we all are.
As someone who loves Franklin and as a Christian, I like to think we all can do better. I like to think we all want good communities. I like to think we don't want to insist on our religious point of view in a way that makes those around us who think or believe differently feel uncomfortable. I think we want to understand each other, not fear each other. The angels in our Christmas stories read at Christmas eve pointed us in the right direc- tion, saying time and time again, "Fear not, I bring good news of great joy which shall be for all people." Fear not--Good news--Great joy--All peo- ple. That's a message that will always make ours a better community. I even think that's a message that will make us better Christians.
Reverend Will Berger