Saturday, December 1, 2001

The Bell Ringer

My wife and daughter and the grandbabies had gone into the mall shopping. I decided that I didn’t need to go so I sat in the car.

My attention was drawn to a man who was ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. He was a very common looking man. He had a beard and a mustache with a plaid shirt and blue jeans on. He looked like he could use the money that was being put in the kettle. Behind him I could see a suitcase and a back pack. I thought he might be a homeless person working for a place to stay and a meal. Maybe some cash. I didn’t know why he was ringing the bell but he was doing a good job.

I couldn’t help but notice that he always had a smile. When a person with children would approach he would put on his big smile and greet the children as if they were someone very important. As the moms and dads would contribute he would let the children ring his bell. Boy, you should have seen their faces! They would smile and look up at the parent as if to say, "Did you see what I just did?"

The bell ringer was bringing joy to the little children.

Here was a man who was in need, and yet he himself was trying to help others. I thought to myself, that’s what Christmas is all about... Not trying to see who can get the most presents. Not seeing how deep we can go in debt. Not buying things for people who don’t need whatever it is that we would buy them. The idea of Christmas is to bring joy, happiness, and peace to others. After all, that’s what Christ did when He was born.

I got to thinking about who the bell ringer was working for, and we all know that it would be the Salvation Army. As I sat there, I wondered how the Salvation Army’s bell ringing was started. So I did some research on the web. Here’s what I found. You might find it very interesting, I know I did.

History of the Kettle

In December of 1891, a Salvation Army Captain in San Francisco had resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor persons. But how would he pay for the food?
As he went about his daily tasks, the question stayed in his mind. Suddenly, his thoughts went back to his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England. He remembered seeing passersby at Stage Landing place their charitable contributions into a large pot they called "Simpson’s pot".
The next morning, he secured permission from the authorities to place a similar pot at the Oakland ferry landing, at the foot of Market Street. No time was lost in securing the pot and placing it in a conspicuous position, so that all those going to and from the ferryboats could see it. In addition, a brass urn was placed on a stand in the waiting room for the same purpose.
Thus, Captain Joseph McFee launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but throughout the world.
By Christmas 1895 kettles were used by 30 Salvation Army Corps in various locations on the West Coast. The Sacramento Bee that year carried a description of the Army’s Christmas activities and mentioned the contributions to street corner kettles.
Shortly afterward, two young Salvation Army officers who had been instrumental in the original use of the kettle, William A. McIntyre and N.J. Lewis, were transferred to the East Coast. They took with them the idea of the Christmas kettle.
In 1897, McIntyre prepared his Christmas plans for Boston around the kettle, but his fellow officers refused to cooperate for fear of "making spectacles of themselves." So McIntyre, his wife and his sister set up three kettles at the Washington Street thoroughfare in the heart of the city. That year the kettle effort in Boston and other locations nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy.
In 1898, The New York World hailed The Salvation Army kettles as "the newest and most novel device for collecting money."
In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden, a custom that continued for many years.
Today, the homeless are still invited to share holiday dinners and festivities at thousands of Salvation Army centers while many poor families are given grocery checks so that they can prepare their own dinners at home.
Now kettles are used in Korea, Japan, and Chile, and in many European countries. Everywhere, public contributions to the kettles enable The Salvation Army to bring the spirit of Christmas to those who would otherwise be forgotten - the aged and lonely, the ill, inmates of jails and other institutions, the poor and unfortunate. In the United States, The Salvation Army annually aids more than 7,000,000 Americans at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kettles have changed since the first utilitarian cauldron set up in San Francisco. Some of the new kettles have such devices as a self-ringing bell and a booth complete with a public address system that broadcasts traditional Christmas carols. Behind it all, though, is the same Salvation Army message, "Sharing is Caring."

As I watched the bell ringer I thought, "I need to know this man’s name." I went over to him and introduced myself. I ask him who he was and where he was from. I told him he was doing a good job, and after making a contribution I left. I don’t know much about the bell ringer, but I do know that he was giving out lots of smiles that day. I do know the money he helped raise will help lots of people this Christmas. Maybe he will benefit from his own work. I hope so. I will pray for him...

Luke 6:38 "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom."