Community events




(Editor’s Note: Special needs students from Abilene and Cooper high schools are selling handmade wooden Christmas trees that are perfect to set in front of the house. They are made of wooden slats and some are painted for a Christmas look. Proceeds go to a trip for the students next spring to a Texas Rangers baseball game. To see the trees or to purchase one, call 691-1000 and ask for Arlieta Jones, supervisor of the program.)

By Loretta Fulton

In the late 1970s, yes 40 years ago, when I was the regional news editor at the Abilene Reporter-News, I made a trip to Anson for some kind of fair that featured a variety of handmade goods in the crafts section.

I don’t remember if it was the fall Jones County Fair or something held closer to Christmas. But I do remember buying a green and red quilted door hanging in the shape of a Christmas tree. Solid red inverted triangular patterns were sewed over a green patterned background.

That one is easy to remember because I see it every year around the first of December when I get out the Christmas decorations.

I see it now hanging on the inside of the front door. I like it so much that I count it among my favorite Christmas items, along with handmade cookie dough ornaments a friend made about the same time and the family ornaments and trinkets that I grew up with.

The reason this handmade quilted Christmas tree door hanging is so special to me is that it was a favorite of a friend who died in 2001. From the first time he saw that door hanging until the last Christmas before his death, he commented on the coziness of it, the sense of comfort it brought to the room.  

It was the symbol of a homespun Christmas, the best kind there is. And that is why I am still drawn to Christmas fairs and stores like the one hosted each year by members of Grace United Methodist Church.

Proceeds from this year’s store, which was open only one day, Dec. 9, went to the free lunch the church serves every Thursday to anyone who’s hungry.

Rows of tables were filled with handmade items–crocheted afghans, pot holders, and drink holders, door and wall hangings, tree ornaments, wreaths and a table filled with cakes, pies, cookies, and brownies.

Outside, as shoppers approached the church, teachers with the school district’s program for students with special needs were hoping to sell a few wooden Christmas trees made by the students. Proceeds from that sale went toward a trip next spring to a Texas Rangers baseball game.

The trees were made of slats cut in lengths to form a pyramid shape, resembling a Christmas tree, when fixed to a center pole. Some of the trees were painted, others left natural. All were made with love.

“They pretty much did all of it,” Janette Riddle said proudly.

She showed the students, from Abilene and Cooper high schools, how to saw the slats, angling the ends, and how to drill holes to screw them into the pole.

“We drew the lines and they cut ‘em,” said another of the adult workers, Marcie Taylor.

Inside the church, “church ladies” were answering questions about the handmade goods in the store and packing purchased items into bags.

There were tables with crocheted afghans, hot pads, and drink holders, wreaths, door and wall hangings, scarves, decorative items of all sorts and one table filled with cakes, pies, candies, and brownies.

It would be hard for most of us to choose from among all those tempting baked goods and beautiful decorations. But, there are a few favorites.

“Baked goods and candies are Number 1,” said Naomi Harrison, longtime secretary at Grace UMC. She personally made fruit bread and jellies to donate.

Alviline Tatum contributed rows of beautifully crocheted afghans, hot pads, and drink holders. A friend, Issie Miller, helped Tatum with the taking the money and making change.

Miller’s contributions were handmade wreaths and other decorative items including a wall hanging with a Santa’s hat hanging on one corner and the words, “Believe” in the middle.

You never know what’s going to sell from year to year, Miller said, and that’s why she makes a variety of decorations. What’s popular one year may not be popular the next. Whatever is sold at the Grace United Methodist store and others like it finds a place in a home and in a heart.

“Things you buy at an event like this,” Miller said, “just are better than store-bought.”

Yes, a homespun Christmas is the best Christmas of all.





By Loretta Fulton

“Happy Thanksgiving! Jesus loves you!

Long lines of hungry diners were greeted with well wishes and a blessing Thursday at the sixth annual Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Robert and Amy Graven in their restaurant on South 27th Street, Lucy’s Big Burgers.

Instead of big burgers, hundreds of guests feasted on the traditional Thanksgiving fare, including pies cooked up by women who are part of Missy Denard’s ministry, New Beginnings.

The women, who have been incarcerated, live in homes sponsored by New Beginnings. The owners of Lucy’s, Robert and Amy Graven, employ several of the women.

Robert Graven and friends smoked 60 turkeys for Thursday’s feast. Lucy’s employees helped with the fixings–dressing, green, beans, rolls, gravy, all the traditional dishes. And volunteers with New Beginnings contributed pies.

“This is our deal,” said Randa Russell, a graduate of the New Beginnings program and now a peer recovery coach at Serenity House.

Robert Graven said the inspiration for the dinner came from his wife, Amy. She grew up in a large family that didn’t have much money. In addition to the large family, her brother would bring home friends from the neighborhood to eat with them.

“Her mom made sure to feed those boys, too,” Graven said.

Amy suggested that she and Robert and their family have Thanksgiving together either the week before or after the traditional day. On Thanksgiving Day, they would host a community dinner.

The first year, 175 people showed up to dine on 14 turkeys, Robert Graven said, and 40 volunteers helped. Now, 600-plus diners isn’t unusual, with 60 turkeys and pans and pans of fixings prepared by volunteers.

Graven said 60 percent of the diners who attend can’t afford a meal and the other 40 percent come because they have no family in town and don’t want to eat alone. Many leave donations. Paying for the meal is something the Graven’s never worry about.

“God has recouped 80 percent of our expenses every year,” Graven said.





Does the church still matter? The world had better hope it does


ACU professor Randy Harris speaks to a large luncheon crowd at ACU on Aug. 26 about whether the church still matters in today’s culture.

By Loretta Fulton

Does the church still matter?

Despite evidence that it doesn’t–judging from the number of “nones” or those who check “none” on religion surveys–people in need know better. Just ask people along the Texas coast who are looking for Good Samaritans, Randy Harris advised during a program he led Aug. 26 on whether the church stills matters in today’s culture.

“The people who will rebuild those communities will be the church,” Harris said, “because they always are.”

Just try imagining what would happen in the world if all the churches disappeared. It wouldn’t be pretty.

“You would see a collapse that would just be stunning,” Harris said.

Harris, an Abilene Christian University religion professor and spiritual director, addressed a large crowd of ACU faculty and staff, as well as members of the community at a luncheon Aug. 26. (more…)

You’re invited to join the (Cafe) conversation

The first Cafe Conversation of the 2017/2018 academic year will be held 7-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, at Mezamiz Coffee House, 3909 S. Seventh, in the Cloisters shopping center.
Cafe Conversation is a spinoff of the Abilene Interfaith Council. It is geared toward college-age students but is open to anyone interested in participating in the dialogue.
The event will explore questions concerning the nature and purpose of interfaith dialogue.
Most Cafe Conversations are held the fourth Thursday of the month, with the exception of September, November, and December. For more information, contact Sarah Dannemiller, Cafe Conversations facilitator, at
Sarah, who also is secretary of the Abilene Interfaith Council, is enrolled in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, working toward a doctor of ministry degree.

Women at Worship


By Loretta Fulton

In her signature high-energy style, Felicia Hopkins captivated an all-woman congregation July 26 in the second of three special mid-week services Hopkins is hosting this summer at the church she pastors, St. Paul United Methodist.

The final installment will begin at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at the church. The services, which include a sermon by Hopkins, special musical presentations and congregational singing, are for all women of the community, regardless of denominational affiliation. Refreshments will be served after the service. (more…)

Service Center Celebrates 50 Years

“Transforming Communities Through Empowerment & Love” will be the theme of a dinner Sept. 12 celebrating the 50th anniversary of Christian Service Center.


Featured speaker Star Parker

Star Parker, founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), will be guest speaker. The event will begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Abilene Convention Center.

Table sponsorships are available. Individual tickets are $50. Call 673-7531 or email Karen Dansby at for ticket availability. (more…)



Counselors and children enjoy a good time–and some learning–at a camp sponsored by Connecting Caring Communities and held at Grace Fellowship Church.

By Loretta Fulton

“My mom gave me a dime to buy a lime.”

“My mom gave me a quarter to buy water.

And on and on it went–one rhyme after another in a silly little song that everyone was loving. That was the scene June 26 at the Caring in Action (CIA) camp hosted by Connecting Caring Communities and held at Grace Fellowship Church, 910 Cypress St. This is the second week for the camps.