“We won the award for the best religious float…!”

On Saturday morning I was standing in the middle of Taylor Street under a sunny winter sky. I was with several hundred others waiting for the Thomasville Christmas Parade to begin. We were the participants and I was with three camels and a Christmas float. Memorial United Methodist was spreading the word about our Journey to Bethlehem.

We had been idle, so I took a walk between the marching bands, floats and “what-not” lined up on either side of the street. There were fire trucks with men hanging out the windows and convertibles carrying local beauty queens. Ms. Senior Citizen of Davidson County, a poised black woman, was practicing the royal hand wave and laughing with her driver.

A group of teenage girls were rehearsing their dance steps. They hit the button on their jam box and danced, stopped to talk with the boys in baseball uniforms, then danced again, or more accurately said, dance for them. Their sequined costumes glistened under the sun.

There were several high school bands. I am told that Thomasville High School led the procession, though I didn’t see them. The East Davidson High School Band had the largest crowd and the loudest. They couldn’t be missed and were awarded the best band.

The floats were mostly flatbeds with scout troops, little league sports teams and people dressed for a Christmas pageant. This was not a big city parade with giant balloons of Pluto and Mickey Mouse floating thirty feet in the air. Most of the decorations were made in church parking lots or in someone’s garage.

Even so, don’t discount our offerings. We had people riding horses that danced, big rigs with flashing lights and a float sponsored by a motorcycle-riding church in town that had a man hanging on the cross. He was dressed only in a loincloth with pretend blood dripping from his forehead. Two men wearing black leather vests carried a banner before him that read “Jesus loves bikers too and prostitutes, addicts, convicts, sinners…” While it may have seemed overzealous to Methodists, I can’t seem to get the pallid, bleeding middle-aged Jesus out of my head and I can’t argue with their message.

The Memorial United Methodist brigade attracted an out-sized portion of the attention. We won the award for the best religious float and I am sure it was due to the camels. They were like divas on a Hollywood strip. People raised their phones to take photos and children followed us.

I find myself smiling when I think of the woman who jumped to her feet, and exclaimed, “Camels!” She looked as though she had lived a hard life, but for a moment she was a child again and full of wonderment. “I’ve never seen camels,” she said to me. I gave her a flyer and told her to come to the rock church on Randolph Street the second weekend in December. I felt like John the Baptist. We were just the precursor, there was more. The baby in Bethlehem would be waiting.

Walking the parade route gave me a clearer sense of Thomasville. We are a diverse city, more so than I imagine many of us suspect: Black, White and Latino. Most of the time we live segregated lives, but as the parade strode by we shared the sidewalks and the winter sun warmed our backs.

Without a doubt, many of us look worn-down from hard living. Some of us are truly poor, but middle-income families filled the parade route too, as well as the marching bands and floats. Along the way I recognized many of our older adults, who tended this city in its most difficult days. And look closely, storefronts and warehouse space that have long been empty are opening, by young people with their lives still ahead of them.

We have invited this city to experience the Christmas story at Memorial. This is the community our church has been called to embrace and for that task there is no greater privilege.

All who love and serve your city, all who bear its daily stress,
all who cry for peace and justice, all who curse and all who bless.
Risen Lord, shall yet the city, be the city of despair?
Come today, our judge, our glory; Be its name “The Lord is there!”
Hymn: All Who Love and Serve Your City