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The meaning of Christmas, to be shared year round

In a word? Love, says pastor who traveled a hard path to fulfillment / December 26, 2012
Sitting in his favorite spot — on the sun porch of his Buffalo Junction home — local pastor Rodney Barwick muses about the time of year: December has come and with it all the joys of Christmas.

Yet, by anyone’s standard, he says, “The way Christmas is celebrated today is a gross commercialization. We’ve replaced the real meaning of Christmas with the desire for gifts, decorations, and big dinners. Is this really Christmas?”

“No,” he says. “It’s about love 365 days a year.

Such a proclamation, coupled with his service as a pastor at Averett Baptist Church, comes from a man who grew up with no religion or expressions of love. “Love was never mentioned” during his childhood, Barwick says.

But it’s his early life that gives him reason to muse about the true meaning of Christmas — how to celebrate its spirit, not just on Christmas Day, but every day of the year. Thinking about his upbringing has helped Barwick to discover the true meaning of Christmas, bringing joy to the joyless, and sharing deep and abiding love.

As a child, Christmas was an occasion of sorrow for the Barwick family. The oldest of five children, Barwick was constantly punished for the fact that his parents “had to marry.” He recounts how he was beaten, called names and repeatedly reminded that his existence ruined his parents’ lives.

As soon as he was able, Barwick left home, determined to make a better life for himself and “prove my father wrong for claiming he would never amount to anything.” By age 26, Barwick was the owner of a farm supply store and tractor dealership, with 13 employees. He was also the Mayor of Roseboro, N.C. But Barwick did not realize the depth of the pain and insecurity his parents had inflicted on him.

To compensate for the abuse — the physical and mental scars suffered by his parents — Barwick turned to alcohol. By the time his political career and business collapsed, at age 34, Barwick said he was drinking “two fifths of Smirnoff” every day.”

The booze may have numbed his personal pain, but it did not suppress his “strong desire to help others. Maybe it was driven by my search for real love,” Barwick explains, adding, “Not the kind where we casually toss out the word love, like I love this or that, but deep meaningful love.”

He turned to several religious leaders to help him stop drinking and find a more fulfilling life, but the preachers only reprimanded him: “They told me I was going to hell because of the way I lived my life. This wasn’t helping me. None of them spoke of love.”

His life changed one day when a friend invited him to breakfast with another friend. “I arrived and the whole time I kept looking for this other friend. Wondering what’s keeping him. I asked, where’s this friend. I was dumbfounded by the answer. ‘He’s here, his name is Jesus, and he loves you just the way you are.’”

It took three months before Barwick said he “yielded to Christ. And because of that, a desire to love everyone took over my heart. At 34, for the first time, Christmas had a new meaning.”

Still he needed a vehicle to share that love. That is why Barwick became a minister. In three years, he earned a degree from Methodist College in Fayetteville. He then attended Duke Divinity School and Southeastern Theological Seminary.

With degree in hand, Barwick and wife Carol set about finding ways to share love and that Christmas feeling with everyone, especially the less fortunate. So how do they do it, Barwick says very simply:

“First, I always tell people I love and respect them. I don’t judge or tell people they’re going to hell.

“Second, I don’t make people feel guilty. I get that we are all sinners.”

“Third, and most important for this time of year, Carol and I don’t exchange presents. My mother-in-law used to give to the food pantry and our son in Chase City gives to a person or organization there.

“Christmas isn’t about gifts, it’s about sharing and caring. We give what we would have spent on each other to one or two families who might otherwise go without Christmas. It is always anonymous.

“Someone gave me a chance one time. That baby in that manger gave me my life back, and I’m going to do everything I can to show him how thankful I am and how much I love him. The joy and peace we receive lasts all year.”

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