Every year, we ask some colleagues, friends, and supporters of The Living Church to share a Christmas gift idea.
We wish you a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas!
For the children in your life, it’s never too early to encourage an enthusiasm for the languages of theological scholarship! You can find alphabet blocks and refrigerator magnets for Greek and Hebrew, and for other classical Christian languages like Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, and Ethiopic. Children will delight in learning an alphabet that their parents and teachers probably can’t read, and they will definitely thank you later if they go to graduate school for theology or the humanities.
Dr. Liza Anderson, teaching professor of church history and ascetical theology at General Theological Seminary
The composer John Sheppard served as leader of the choir at Magdalene College, Oxford, and then in the choir of the Chapel Royal during the English Reformation. He composed liturgical music for both English and Latin texts during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary Tudor. Media vita (Linn Records, 2019) by the choir of New College, Oxford, under the direction of Robert Quinney, offers a selection of Latin motets drawn from Old Testament texts, as well as hymns from the Latin liturgy.
The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee and president of the Living Church Foundation.
The Rand McNally 2023 Large Scale Road Atlas is on my Christmas list, in part, because of smartphones. It’s no longer easy to pick one up at a gas station or truck stop. MapQuest and Google Maps have little in common with the real deal: sturdy paper over which you can trace roads, rivers, and mountain ranges — all the places we can go in this magnificent continent.
The Rev. Dr. Annette Brownlee, chaplain and professor of pastoral theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto
Everyone is Anglican at Christmas, and our sacred liturgy is the most evangelical tool we have. With those compass points in mind, I capture pictures of children living out their ministries boldly and without apology. My intent is to capture them sanctifying life, time, and space with their consecrated lives. I send the framed photos to parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles. I ask that they enjoy the image by displaying it on their desk, allowing it to stimulate conversations with colleagues.
The Rt. Rev. Brian Burgess, Bishop of Springfield
Unwrapping the 12 Days of Christmas by Curtis Almquist, SSJE, is a Christmas favorite of mine and helps me slow down during the two weeks after Christmas. My wife and I have made it a perennial practice to add these short, daily readings to our daily prayers. The chapter on Mary is particularly helpful, and I have often shared it with friends who want to better understand an Episcopal/Anglican articulation of the mother of our Lord.
The Rt. Rev. Matthew Cowden, Bishop of West Virginia
Malcolm Guite’s Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year is an excellent gift, either as a work of literature or as a manual of devotions. The sonnet form enables the poet to say just enough to reach the heart without overwhelming it. A priest of the Church of England and a singer-songwriter, Guite intends his poetry to “be profound without ceasing to be beautiful.” I think he succeeds magnificently.
The Rev. Lawrence Crumb, a longtime TLC contributor and a retired priest of the Diocese of Oregon
Decline and Fall (1928) is a social satire by Evelyn Waugh. The novel follows the fall and redemption of theology student Paul Pennyfeather as fate casts him between Oxford, a Welsh boarding school, English country homes (both ancient and modern), and even prison for a spell. Decline and Fall is an excellent gift for the student, priest, prison guard, Englishman, or country squire in your life.
Weston Curnow, a TLC contributor, and a journalism student at the University of Kansas
Christmas in Australia is either hot or bloody hot, but traditions die hard. Some years ago, a retired caterer in our parish suggested cooking puddings and selling them as a fundraiser. If Christmas Day proves a scorcher, just roll out the fruit salad and keep the pudding for a “Christmas in July” dinner. But Christmas pudding is best reheated in a billy over a campfire.
Robyn Douglass, a TLC correspondent based in Adelaide, Australia
How about a gift that soothes our bodies, which in turn revives our minds and spirits? Physical therapists and serious athletes use massage guns to relieve muscle discomforts and pains. After a long Sunday on one’s feet, it is a nice way to relieve stiffness and muscle tension. They come in many styles and prices to fit one’s budget.
The Rev. Philene M. Ware Dunn, a supply priest in the Diocese of Virginia
One of the great prayers in our Anglican tradition was created from some words of a sermon by John Donne: “Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening to the house and gate of heaven.” For many years I have used this prayer at every funeral liturgy at which I have presided, and we heard it sung to Sir William Harris’s stunning setting at the Committal Service of Queen Elizabeth II. The British ensemble VOCES8 has a splendid recording of this piece on its CD After Silence.
The Rt. Rev. Peter Eaton, Bishop of Southeast Florida
High on my list of books is The Power of Reconciliation (Bloomsbury Continuum) by Archbishop Justin Welby, followed by Theology and Batman: Examining the Religious World of the Dark Knight (Lexington Books).
Neva Rae Fox, a TLC correspondent based in Somerville, New Jersey
Traveling to Kenya and back takes me no less than 60 hours. During this past November’s passage, I read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, an American physician born to Indian Christian parents in Ethiopia. The second novel that rescued me from those interminable hours aloft is Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, a Sri Lankan émigré author who now makes his home in Toronto. Ondaataje writes with such understanding about growing up that I feel as if he sits at a corner table in my memory.
The Rev. Patrick Gahan, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, San Antonio
If you want to send the warmth of the Holy Spirit or wrap someone in God’s never-failing love, then send Nordstorm’s Bliss Plush Throw. I also love Alabaster’s books of the Bible. They are elegant, creative, beautiful — just like our church! Alabaster wants to help everyone experience God’s beauty in the world.
The Rt. Rev. Elizabeth Gardner, Bishop of Nevada
Historical fiction is my genre of choice when I need an escape from present-day woes; it also helps me keep my momentary afflictions in perspective. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn centers on three women who worked at Bletchley Park in England to break the Enigma code during World War II, and is one of the few novels by a living author that I will read again.
The Rev. Nathan Humphrey, rector of St. Thomas’ Anglican Church, Toronto
Pilgrimage trekking poles have not only saved my tired feet and weak knees after too many ambitious miles, but they also provided a handhold when ancient pathways were an overgrown bramble, a steep descent, or a mess of slippery stones. Opt for a collapsible pair in a composite material that are sturdy and compact enough for checked baggage, since TSA doesn’t always take kindly to the carbide tips in carry-on luggage.
The Rev. Jeff Hupf, rector of St. Martin’s on the Lake, Minnetonka Beach, Minnesota
The monks of Monastero di San Benedetto in Monte brew delicious abbey ales and sell them through the web. I love to support these monastics (who are rebuilding after devastating earthquakes) and to foster their “Birra Nursia” motto: Ut Laetificet Cor (“that the heart may be gladdened”).
Richard Kennelly, a home brewer who serves as treasurer of Leadership Transformations and a new member of the Living Church Foundation
Since my children were quite small, we have each opened one present on Christmas Eve — our Christmas pajamas. My daughters are now 22 and 25, and they still look forward to opening those Christmas pajamas. If you are looking for traditional, cozy, Lanz nightgowns, check out the Vermont Country Store for an amazing selection.
Heidi Kim works with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota to engage the ministry of racial healing and justice-making.
My husband and I love playing games, and our favorite for parties is Telestrations. A hilarious combination of the childhood games Pictionary and Telephone, it’s a multigenerational crowd-pleaser that involves sketching and describing what others have sketched.
The Rev. Molly Jane Layton, associate rector for congregational care and worship at the Parish of Calvary-St. George’s in New York City
In 2021 my niece Alicia Joy LeBlanc was the co-director of Gun and a Hotel Bible, which builds on the Beatles’ song “Rocky Raccoon” to weave a story about lost faith, betrayal, temptation, and the hound of heaven. It’s available for streaming on many platforms.
Douglas LeBlanc, an associate editor of TLC
Readers who already enjoy C.S. Lewis’s popular works might be astonished at just how much of the great Western literary and theological tradition made its way into every page of those books. In The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis (IVP), medievalist Jason Baxter shows that for Lewis, the living, breathing tradition of Boethius and Dante could cast a counter-spell against the “evil enchantment” of the allegedly demystified, secularized modern world.
Ben Lima, an art historian, and a parishioner at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas
The most precious gift one can receive is a memorable experience with friends and family. Nearly every town in America has an escape room. The task is to solve a mysterious puzzle within an hour. I always learn something extraordinary about my fellow escapees.
The Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary
I suggest The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living (2010), through which John Stott issues an evergreen call to nonconformity in the face of pluralism, materialism, relativism, and other contemporary trends that threaten to swallow us. Like Stott, I have sometimes wondered if anything is more essential to evangelism than a Christlike evangelist.
Jesse Masai, a TLC correspondent based in Nakuru City, Kenya
It’s never too late to start a new tradition. For almost 20 years, my family has given me a nativity set each Christmas. They vary in every way imaginable: size, scene, country of origin. The only thing that is consistent is the reminder of, and focus on, the incredible gift of Jesus and the incarnate nature of God. These nativity sets come from places we have traveled, fair trade shops such as Ten Thousand Villages, eBay, and neighborhood yard sales.
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Mello, Bishop of Connecticut
For someone who appreciates the practical, sympathetic, or apocalyptic: a winter sickness prep kit. (Call it something more appealing.) Include a set of soft hankies, beeswax lip/nose balm, mentholated cough drops, a hot-water bottle, chicken soup mix, Lemon Zinger tea, honey, warm socks, or a big bottle of Olbas peppermint oil.
Amber Noel, an associate editor of TLC and director of the Living Church Institute
When I was serving as a priest in Colorado, my wife and I discovered Enstrom toffee, based in Grand Junction. Its famous recipe came to be during World War II, when Chet Enstrom made toffee for parents to send to their children serving oversees at Christmas. The almond toffee is the best I’ve had.
The Rt. Rev. Poulson Reed, Bishop of Oklahoma, and a member of the Living Church Foundation
The older of my two sons has a knack for choosing motion pictures that suit my tastes. He got me hooked on those written and directed by Tom McCarthy. The first I watched was Win Win (2011). Most recently, I watched Stillwater (2021). Spotlight (2015) might be the best-known. Each involves characters who aim to do good, but they do not always do right. Weaved into each story are themes of sin, mercy, and grace, the latter especially. Invite some friends for dinner and a McCarthy movie, but hold dessert for the end, when you can talk about how you saw these themes emerging. (Win Win is still my favorite!)
John Schuessler, TLC’s managing editor
My go-to option for purchasing Christmas gifts is Thistle Farms of Nashville, founded and still led by the Rev. Becca Stevens. With the mission of “helping women survivors overcome and heal from systems of prostitution and exploitation,” the folks at Thistle Farms fund their work by selling all sorts of things made by women. I love to give its handmade candles. As it says on the box, “a single candle lights up the darkest night.” Not a bad message for Christmas!
The Rt. Rev. Rob Skirving, Bishop of East Carolina
This year, I’m looking to give (and receive) things that make home cozier, such as warm and breathable boiled wool slippers. For smaller budgets, try Paine’s Balsam Fir Incense to bring a New England Christmas to your house. Finally, if you’re looking for a theological book, I recommend The Valley of Vision, a beautiful collection of Puritan devotional material.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Kara N. Slade, associate rector of Trinity Church, Princeton, and canon theologian of the Diocese of New Jersey
As your gift to your community, buy from local artists, farmers, and businesses. How great it would be, as well, to take some cookies to our neighbors who are of different political affinity and religious affiliations. In this season of abundance, I invite you to share a gift with those who are different, near and local.
The Rt. Rev. Jos Tharakan, Bishop of Idaho
I always suggest Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy series. Volume I is a book of prayers for things like changing diapers, preparing a meal, beekeeping, and gardening. Volume II: Death, Grief, and Hope is a necessity for walking through seasons of darkness.
Leslie Eiler Thompson, owner of Rogue Creative Consulting and TLC’s digital content manager
We’re focusing on nonprofit items, produced locally (and preferably within the diocese). That will include jars of marmalade made by the bell ringers of the Hampshire parish of Crondall & Ewshot, and bottles of gin (“Spirit of St Mary’s”) distilled for the Surrey parish of Ewell. But if you push me to recommend a book, it might be Wilding by Isabella Tree.
The Rt. Rev. Jo Bailey Wells, Bishop of Dorking
It’s a Wonderful Life has become my ultimate Christmas favorite. It features angels prominently and depicts how miracles can happen when you need them the most. It is a two-hour and ten-minute gift of reflection, inspiration, and love at Christmas time for families and everyone.
Melissa Williams-Sambrano, a TLC correspondent based in Chaguanas, Trinidad
As my husband and I look at our son’s ever-expanding collection of toys, we are leaning toward gifts focused on others this year. Several organizations sell chickens, honeybees, goats, ducks, alpacas, cows, or even a water buffalo for a family. We may give our son a small stuffed animal that reminds us to pray for the family who receive the animal.
Theresa Wilson, director of the Louisville Fellows Program in Kentucky
Over the years I have shared the Art of He QI with family, friends, and church leaders around the world. His wonderful posters and prints reflect his efforts to help change the “foreign image” of Christianity in China. His 1998 work Peace, Be Still depicts Christ stilling the waters in bold colors reminiscent of stained glass.
The Rev. Bruce W. Woodcock, the Episcopal Church’s Asia and the Pacific partnership officer
Several years ago, I saw a copy of Plough Quarterly on the desk of a colleague. I was astounded by the literary quality, theological reflection, and aesthetic sensibility of the publication. I discovered that undergirding its publishing ethos is a fundamental conviction that faith has the power to transform every aspect of life.
The Rev. Dr. Manoj Zachariah, rector of St. Anne’s, Annapolis, Maryland
What I want this year is a Light Phone, a de-engineered smartphone that keeps all the good (directions, music, texts) while ejecting the bad (social media, internet apps). Andy Squyres has published Poet Priest Vol. 2, a print edition of his inspired work on Instagram.
Dave Zahl, founder and director of Mockingbird Ministries
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