Live United: Think about what you can do to give back to United Way

Published 8:45 pm Friday, November 26, 2021

Live United by Erin Haag

This summer, my daughter started as an altar server. My children are two years apart, but only a couple pounds and inches different. It’s not often that one can do something the other can’t, and it’s a little bit challenging at times for my younger son.

Erin Haag

We were talking in the foyer of our church one day, reminding him of all the things he could do to help. It’s a conversation I have with my children on a regular basis — you do what you can. It’s a conversation echoed by some of my generous readers of this column — I remember the sweet note in response to Imagination Library, and a note about how she could not volunteer due to her age, but she could donate and sponsor a child. You do what you can. 

My little guy said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be an usher!” Our pastor heard him, and said, “you can do that now.” Well, it was all over from there. We have a wonderful, consistent group of ushers, and they took my 6-year-old under their wing. I’m told I have to make it clear that he was 6 when he started, but he is now 7 years of age as of last week. Uffda. This mama cringes a bit when he has the long handled offering basket and he’s walking by the Communion wine host, and says a few extra prayers he doesn’t knock it over. It’s been a close call a few times. Church members laugh at me, thinking I’m constantly checking on him by craning my neck back to see what’s going on. True, I’m checking on him, but I’m not as worried as they think. Mostly, I get such joy out of watching him.

At our Thanksgiving service, my son was very impatient in the pew with it. It wasn’t the usual group, and the ushers weren’t sitting in the foyer like they usually do. He kept looking back to see if anyone had come in a little late, and I finally told him he could go sit in the foyer if he wanted. As he darted out, in walks one of our ushers, Nick. Nick happens to be a United Way board member as well as a firefighter, so the kids know him on a couple of different levels. He’s called me to discuss UW board business and wound up listening to bedtime prayers.

My son of course went right up to him and said, “I need someone to under with me, do you want to under with me?” Nope, that’s not a typo, my son was so excited, he said “under” instead of “usher.”

Of course, Nick agreed and my son sat right next to him for the church service. I watched with joy as Nick took the time to give my son tips on how to welcome people during Communion, showing him how small gestures with hands and a welcoming smile and eye connection are part of the job. My son eventually got so serious about his job, he couldn’t even sit next to Nick anymore, but had to go sit in the foyer on the usher’s bench, even if he was by himself. I looked at my little boy, all alone, swinging his legs, intently listening and watching for the time to do his job and felt pride that he took it so seriously.

It’s a weekly joy for me not only to watch my child serve in the way he feels works for him best, but to watch our community members, our church members gather around him and show him what to do.

I mentioned my daughter was alter serving. She trained this summer with a girl that was headed off to college. Once her mentor went off to college, my daughter was pretty shy about sitting up there by herself. In an effort to encourage her, we started having her do the opening duties, thinking she’d get comfortable with it. She enjoyed doing those pieces, but still couldn’t bring herself to be alter server by herself. At 9 years of age, I’m not sure I would like sitting by myself in front of everyone either. Once or twice she’s walked in the processional with the others, but even that is a little too much.

She now turns on the altar lights, lights the candles and brings the Communion bells to our pew. She sits next to her daddy and rings the bells at the right moment — all from the pew. It’s unusual, and I knew there are questions about why she’s not sitting up there, but that’s OK. You do what you can, and she does it, taking great pride in it. After all, why does it have to be all or nothing?

Again, our community members, our church families have rallied around her. They give her little jobs to do before service and encourage her every step of the way. Instead of worrying about how to make her be an altar server, I receive joy from watching her light the candles.

Both my children have made comments to me about their service. They say, “but I don’t…” talking about what they can’t do or aren’t comfortable doing. It renews my determination to remind them to do what they can — and that it’s OK. I am reminded of a article that was written centered around sports and civility. We can get so caught up in “coaching” that we forget to share the love we have. These coaching moments are important — but it can unintentionally be conditional.

I have a challenge for you Thanksgiving weekend. Tell your children — your adult children, your young children — that you love them and you’re proud of them. Tell them without encouraging them to be better, to do better, or any other additive. Let it be plain and simple. “I love to watch you______.” “I’m proud of you for_____.”

This holiday season, think about what you can do for United Way. It might be volunteering, shopping for coats or donating. Your donation might be $5, or it might be $500. I’ve received phone calls saying that someone would like to volunteer, but they need to do so from home. A few months later, she completed a project for me that was very helpful. Sometimes it’s a sweet phone call or note in a letter expressing gratitude. Need an idea of how to give back? Call me at 507-373-8670 and we’ll talk!

No matter what you’re doing, I gladly accept it, appreciate you doing what you can. I’m proud of our community for stepping up, and I love to watch our community live united.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.