Editor's note: This story is the first in a series that will appear this month that focuses on faith, and the preparations and views of local clergy as the Christmas season approaches.
Churches often see higher levels of attendance over the holiday season.
"It's the one time when people really are looking for something more than the Black Friday sale. … They want something with a little more depth to it," said the Rev. Rick Pittenger, pastor of Vermillion's First United Methodist Church.
But Pittenger said attitudes of leaders in all kinds of churches can sometimes keep people away for the rest of the year.
He cited as an example an incident that happened years ago near Lake Preston, when a 5-year-old boy was killed by a truck on his parents' dairy farm.
"I wrote an article in the paper about the will of God, because people throw that around way too easy, I think. They say, 'Well, it's God's will, you've just got to accept it and move on,'" Pittenger said. "I don't think that was God's will. I think we live in a world where human beings make mistakes. …
"I think God is the first to cry when something like that happens," he said.
Pittenger said there is the circumstantial will of God, and the natural will of God.
"The natural will of God is, if you fall off a 10-story building and land on concrete, chances are you're going to die, and that's just the natural law," he said. "Circumstantial will is that you walked in front of that truck, or you smoked cigarettes and you got cancer.
"But the ultimate will of God is that we all live long and healthy lives. I think that's God's ultimate will for our lives," he said. "Just because we don't have the cure for cancer or heart disease doesn't mean there isn't one out there. We just haven't found it yet. That's part of the human condition."
Pittenger outlined his view in an article that ran in the local paper.
Soon, he was visited by the boy's mother.
"(The article) helped name some of the feelings that she had, because when she talked to her pastor, he told her, 'It's God's will. You just have to get over it.' And I don't know how a pastor could say that to a parishioner," Pittenger said.
As a thank-you for what he wrote, the boy's mother gave a stained-glass Nativity scene that was purchased with memorial money to Pittenger's church.
She also gave Pittenger a stained-glass scene depicting St. Francis of Assisi. It hangs in the window of his office today.
Pittenger said it is one of the roles of all churches to give comfort to their members all year-round – not just during the holiday season.
"I think that we should have more of a grace-filled message instead of beating people up when they feel less than whole, and lost," he said.
– Look in future issues of the Vermillion Plain Talk to find stories where local church leaders give their views on the holiday season.