By Rev. Tony Sundermeier, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
My regular run takes me from my home in Ansley Park to Piedmont Park, and then up 12th Street to Peachtree. Once I reach the Woodruff Arts Center and First Presbyterian Church, I head back home. The other day I was running on Peachtree between 12th and 13h Street when a Midtown Alliance banner hanging from a light post caught my eye. It read, “Turn Over a New Leaf.” As I ran by, the wind picked up and blew some freshly fallen leaves right into my face. That got my attention. Perhaps it was a sign: what “new leaf” might I need to turn over? As I was finishing my run, my focus was fixed on gratitude and thanksgiving: I was thankful for my city, my church community, my neighborhood, my family and my friends. At that moment I was “feeling” my gratitude.
Still in these feelings, I came to the corner of 16th and Peachtree Street and saw a line of people in front of the church. This was not at all unexpected. First Presbyterian has “stayed open” throughout the pandemic, serving over 1,000 of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors every month. For over three decades, FPC Atlanta’s Community Ministries has been serving in North Midtown in a variety of ways. Through a dedicated staff and over one hundred volunteers our mail service, Meals on Wheels, Redemption After Prison, document procurement, food pantry, clothing closet, tax preparation, shower ministry, foot care ministry, bathroom trailer, free counseling services through the Samaritan Counseling Center of Atlanta, regular meals including a Sunday prayer breakfast, and our Transformation Center that houses up to a dozen women on our campus at any one time for up to twelve months. These ministries have pressed on during the pandemic. I was talking with one of our volunteers the other day, and she shared the reason why she gives so much of her time and energy to these ministries. She said, “It’s a way I can live out my gratitude to God for all the blessings of my life.”
You know, it is one thing to feel grateful but it is another thing to act on one’s gratitude. And that is the new leaf I am turning over: I want to practice my gratitude more. I want my feelings of thankfulness to translate into action. In this Thanksgiving season, perhaps it is time to turn over a new leaf. Perhaps it’s time not only to feel grateful but also to act on your gratitude. To invest some of your time, or your money, or your talents for the good of someone else. Perhaps it’s time to express your gratitude in a concrete and tangible way. Perhaps its time to steward the blessings and gifts and privileges of your life in a way that gives a “hand-up” to someone on their road to self-sufficiency.
There are many organizations within the Midtown Atlanta community that I am familiar with that are serving our most vulnerable neighbors and friends. If you are looking to get connected and/or support communities who are serving those experiencing homelessness and/or food insecurity, check out Covenant Community of All Saints Episcopal Church, Atlanta Children’s Shelter, First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta Community Ministries, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Peachtree Christian Church, and St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. If you are interested in supporting the work of keeping people in their homes through rental assistance, check out Midtown Assistance Center. Finally, if you are interested in supporting excellent subsidized mental healthcare for the working poor and those living in poverty who otherwise couldn’t afford it, visit Samaritan Counseling Center of Atlanta.