Faith Matters clergy column from the Rev. Robert Sichta: Snowbirds welcome back

The season is upon us.

No, not HallowThanksMass. That's already happening.

Unless it morphs into HalloThanksMassEggster -- a distinct possibility.

Our long hibernation is almost over. Time to reset your watches, on my count, because the party is about to start!

If you live in Florida year-round, please skip to the last paragraph, where it reads: "Okay, I'm done now." Are they gone? Good! Listen!

Snowbird season! Hope that's not insulting. I mean, it's how we refer to you when you're gone.

We've missed you! In fact, we're desperate. We've been searching the horizons for you for months.

You of the golden wings and pockets, soaring down from "up north" on the winds of the latest Alberta Clipper.

It's gotten so bad the best restaurants in town are making house calls with free samples, and Clancy's -- yes, Clancy's! -- has extended its happy hour!

Never mind that you snarl our traffic. You don't, actually. We just blame you for it. Except on Anna Maria Island. For that, yes, we blame you.

Or that you create long waits at those soon-to-be-packed-again restaurants.

"I'm sorry. We don't take reservations. The wait is 90 minutes. One moment please. May I super-size that for you, Ma'am? I'm sorry. You were saying?"

Even though we sometimes treat you with a cold shoulder and bring along camper vans that keep us from making the light.

Even though you're only temporary and our problems are permanent.

We need you!

You provide us with an excuse. It works like this: When you're not here, we talk about how everything will get better when you arrive.

When you're here, you become our diversion. One that keeps us from having to face or fix our community.

Not our beaches, restaurants, shows and patented sunshine.

Our other community.

The one we try to make sure you don't see.

The one we created years ago, let fester, and (other than a slew of unseen preachers, teachers, community workers and overworked police) haven't addressed.

The one you've heard about with false dog-whistle disdain from too many prospective public servants.

The one you have to search for because it can be hard to spot, or even find, unless you plan to go there.

Believe me, more than a few of us don't want to take that risk with your tourist dollar.

It's the community we pretend to want to help, not just here, but where you're from. The community many well-intentioned, understaffed, underfunded, underappreciated people and organizations spend each day trying to help.

The community lost in the rhetoric of shallow thinking and even shallower action by those who pander for votes by using the people who live in those needy places as scapegoats.

You are in Florida. The state where we put men on the moon, and then quoted the Bible to assuage ourselves from our responsibilities to help the "undeserving" least among us.

You are in Florida, where our goals include requiring drug tests for people on public assistance and allowing the open carry of firearms as the best ways to solve our social problems. Or, to provide a smokescreen where lower real estate millage rates serves as proof we are making social progress.

You snowbirds can help. You'll meet resistance, but you can move us in the right direction.

Your snowbird house of worship is a great place to start. Particularly if it offers early childhood education, food bank or a food distribution program.

This season, ask your friends of faith to truly include you in what they're doing.

Not the highlights.

The lowlights, where your realities are other people's dreams.

Go. Look. Meet those overworked folk who commit themselves year-round.

Ask questions like: "What do you need?" and "How can I help?"

Spend your seasonal time being truly fulfilled by helping fill the cups of others.

Yes, I know you have problems like ours back home. Maybe you figured this was a good place to get away.

Guess what. They're everywhere.

Which, in a perverse sort of way, for those of you who know where your next meal is coming from, is good news.

For you and for the people you'll be helping.

Because you'll see things we don't. You'll have ideas that haven't occurred to us. And you'll reaffirm the faith we sometimes lack in ourselves (and in God) when our challenges seem like more than we can handle.

Oh, and thanks!

So, the season is upon us. What say we make this the greatest one ever? After all, March 28 will get here soon enough.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Sichta, Congregational United Church of Christ, 3700 26th St. W., Bradenton, can be reached by calling 941-756-1018 or e-mailing Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.