Monday, December 29, 2014

The Angel Connection


       On Christmas Eve my family attended a Presbyterian Church service where the pastor surprised me by speaking about angels. Three large sets of white angel wings, trimmed with gold garland, were hung over the altar that was decorated with the usual poinsettias and wreaths. Angels play an important role in the Christmas story, so why was I surprised? 

       Just a few years ago this same pastor stated that she wouldn't wear angel jewelry because a focus on angels distracts people from their relationship with God. And while angels are mentioned in the Bible numerous times, this is the first time I recall them being the topic of a sermon. The pastor had been inspired by a children's book about angels written by a friend of hers, and she encouraged the congregation, children and adults alike, to be open to the angelic messages we might receive.

       I believe in angels because I have heard so many wonderful stories of their appearances, and because they are acknowledged in many world religions. Angels are divine beings who help to create a sense of oneness among people of different cultures and faiths. 

       Roman Catholics tend to place more importance on angels than members of Protestant churches. "Angels in Catholicism are intermediaries between God and humans. In addition to their role as servants and messengers, angels are also attendants to God's throne. Catholic theology outlines a hierarchy of nine choirs of angels divided into three groups: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; Dominations, Virtues and Powers; Principalities, Archangels and Angels."(

       Most Protestants share the belief that angels are messengers from God who also offer guidance, protection, and assistance. Protestants are warned not to pray to angels the way Catholics do, but I'll bet a lot of Protestants have broken that rule since angels have become so popular in recent years. 

       Buddhists believe in celestial beings, also known as devas. In Tibetan Buddhism devas are sometimes considered to be emanations of bodhisattvas or enlightened beings. Different schools of Buddhism have different important devas, as they are often derived from pre-Buddhist cultures and religions and not from Buddhist philosophy. (

       Hindus do not refer to angels, but they do believe in various spiritual beings who act as divine messengers. These include the minor gods, or devas, a name that means "shiining ones." As the pastor pointed out on Christmas Eve, the angels are clothed in light, so "shining ones" is an appropriate name for them!

       Angels in Islam, or malaikah, play an essential role as messengers and intermediaries from Allah to the world, beginning with the angel Jabrai'il (Gabriel) who revealed the Qur’an, Islam's holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad. Gabriel was also one of the seven archangels in Hebrew tradition. He appears in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures 
where he serves as the announcer of the births of John to Zechariah and Jesus to Mary. The Archangel Gabriel symbolizes the Oneness of these three major religions by his important role in each one. 

       I have met many non-religious people who believe in angels even though they don't believe in much else. Angels are the divine representatives that connect people in a common belief while also maintaining the bridge between heaven and earth. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Giving Circles

Dining for Women Pot Luck Dinner

Otsego County is home to a great many generous citizens who are always looking for ways to lend a helping hand to people in need. In recent years the concept of giving circles has provided new opportunities for some of these citizens to make a positive difference in the lives of the unfortunate.

A giving circle consists of a group of people, small or large, who get together socially and pool their resources to fund a single charity. Two giving circles in Oneonta are Dining for Women and 100+ Women Who Care Otsego. Both groups came into being as the result of women reading inspirational books. 

In 2010 Eve Rabbiner read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and felt inspired to do something to help women and children who live in extreme poverty in developing countries. Rabbiner contacted some friends who got together and researched ways to educate people about this issue and raise funds for groups that work to make a difference. Rabbiner’s friends became the core committee for the Oneonta chapter of Dining for Women, a national organization that offers a way to meet their goals.

The core committee includes Eve and her husband, Stan Rabbiner, Marilyn Helterline, Janet Potter, Joan Kollgaard, Paul Conway, Kate O'Donnell, and Linda Wilcox. The first event they hosted was a reading from Half the Sky that took place in December 2010 at the Green Toad Bookstore in Oneonta. Twenty-five people joined the core group for this gathering. Participants learned that Dining for Women offers a grant each month to a different program that works to improve the lives of impoverished women and girls in developing countries. Funds for the programs are raised at group dinners where contributors donate money for that month’s grant winner.

The national Dining for Women organization was the brainchild of Marsha Wallace, a former nurse and mother of four from Greenville, SC, who, in the fall of 2002 read an article about a group of friends who met for potluck dinners and collected donations for needy families using the money they would have otherwise spent in restaurants. Wallace and co-founder, Barb Collins, conceived and implemented the idea of Dining for Women which spread like wildfire around the country.

The core committee for the local chapter of Dining for Women decided that since education was one of their goals, they would host public pot-luck dinners for both men and women. These dinners are held at the Oneonta Unitarian-Universalist Society where an educational program is presented after the meal has been shared. The presenter is a local expert on the country or issue addressed by that month’s grant winner. Over the past four years the group has raised about $30,000 for different non-profit organizations.

The grant recipient for November was “Gardens for Health International,” a group that provides agricultural solutions to childhood malnutrition in Rwanda. The guest speaker was Dr. Linda Swift, professor of biology at Hartwick College, who spoke about her work with the Naga tribe in northern Thailand. The work that Dr, Swift and her students do to increase the nutritional intake for Naga children is similar to the work done by Gardens for Health. After a delicious meal and an informative presentation by Dr. Swift, participants passed a basket for donations to help impoverished children in Rwanda.

Rabbiner says: “We have a great planning group. We all share the responsibilities of setting things up and recruiting guest speakers. We realize that individually we can’t change the world, but when people who care about an issue work together they can help make that change happen.”

Another giving circle that gives individuals the opportunity to make a difference by working together is 100+ Women Who Care. This organization was launched in November of 2006 by Karen Dunigan of Jackson, Michigan, as a simple way to raise money efficiently and quickly for local charities. In 2013 Cathy Deleski  of Oneonta read Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Possible Impossible by Regina Brett and felt inspired to start a local chapter of 100+ Woman Who Care.

Deleski called her sister, Colleen Andrew, and several friends for a brainstorming meeting. The group, consisting of Deleski, Andrew, Petrea Delberta, Coleen Lewis, and Aida Rogers made plans for a kick-off event to be held July 17, 2013.  Bobbie Lipari-Harlem donated the space and refreshments at the Carriage House Event Center in Oneonta for the gathering which was attended by 30 women.
                Each woman attending an event is committed to donating $100 to a local charity. Each participant puts the name of her favorite Otsego County charity in a hat. Three charities are chosen and the women who nominated them give a pitch for their cause. The women then vote for one charity to receive the funds collected at the event. The winner of the first event was The Lord’s Table which received a $3,000 donation. The goal for 100+ Women Who Care is to gather 100 women to donate $10,000 to a single charity.

            Since its inception in 2006, 100+ Women Who Care chapters have been formed all over North America. Chapters in larger cities meet four times a year.  The Otsego County group is meeting once a year to celebrate what they call “Christmas in July.” The second event took place on July 24, 2014 at the B-Side Ballroom which donated space and hors d'oeuvres. This time 40 women attended and raised $4,000 for Family Services.

            The hope is that 100+ Women Who Care Otsego will continue to grow and meet its goal of 100 participants. The next Christmas in July will take place at the B-Side on July 23, 2015 with registration at 5:30 and the one-hour meeting beginning at 6:00. Deleski says: “It’s a great opportunity for women to mingle and network while combining resources to support a good cause.”

            100+ Women Who Care Otsego welcomes women who wish to support charitable organizations in Otsego County. The local chapter of Dining for Women welcomes both men and women to their pot-lucks to socialize, become informed, and support organizations that help impoverished women and children in developing countries. The next meeting of Dining for Women will be held at the Oneonta Unitarian Universalist Society on January 18, 2015 at 1:00 pm. The grant recipient for January is the Collateral Repair Project which helps Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan.

(Originally published in The Oneonta Daily Star, December 6, 2014.)