ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — It wasn’t just monetary gifts that were dedicated to God as the congregation sang the Doxology at First Baptist Church in Elizabeth City, N.C., one Sunday morning in February. As the music sounded, 11 people with ragged, newly-shorn heads walked down the aisle carrying bags of their hair as offerings to be placed on the altar table.
The procession was the culmination of an unusual church project that offered spiritual lessons and blessings even as it helped people in need.
It all started in June 2012, when a church member, David Lacasse, cracked a joke at his own expense about being “an old man with long hair.”
Jeanell Cox, part of the lighthearted conversation, told Lacasse that his hairstyle choice was great and he should live his life as he chooses.
Lacasse explained that rather than making a fashion statement, he was growing out his hair so he could donate it to Locks of Love, the nonprofit that provides wigs to children and teenagers who have lost hair because of medical problems.
Cox, a chaplain with Albemarle Hospital and Albemarle Home Care and Hospice as well as the wife of the church’s senior pastor, Christopher Ingram, knew an opportunity when she saw one. “I said, ‘Why don’t we make it a church project?,’ ” she recalled. She had donated to Locks of Love in the past and had also been letting her hair grow at the time.
From that beginning, the project “kind of got a heart and a life of its own,” Cox said.
As word spread, other church members agreed to participate, and a few people who aren’t church members joined. The project was the source of much humor, as some members — including Ingram — joked wryly about not having hair to spare.
By their second meeting, at a local coffee shop, the prospective donors started considering how to “bring the spirit of the gifts we wanted to give so that the entire church could enjoy it,” Cox said. “We wanted to do this because it was really fun and we wanted to invite the church into this project.”
Things began to fall into place. The congregation included three hair stylists, a fact that surprised Cox. The stylists, in turn, were pleasantly surprised by the thought of using their skills as part of worship.
“It was an opportunity for me to see firsthand how you never know what skills you might have to give to God,” Cox said, “and the folks who did our haircuts said ‘We never thought we’d be using our vocation in church like this.’ ”
The group brainstormed various approaches, including having their hair cut in the Sunday morning worship service. Eventually, they rejected that idea, fearing that the barbering might be too distracting — and messy.
They settled on having the group, with hair braided and ready for the shears, appear in the sanctuary at the beginning of the service, while Ingram talked about how God lovingly welcomes all gifts to others. Then the donors filed out to have their hair cut. When they returned to have their gifts blessed and prayers offered for those who receive them, their locks had been shorn, but what remained had yet to be styled.
Their jagged, newly-shorn looks provided a lesson. “The image of that was important — you’re a work in progress spiritually and religiously,” Cox said. “God is always at work in us, wherever we are. We have some jagged edges, but God doesn’t require us to give out of being a finished project. Some of our greatest gifts come out of our jagged edges, our rough spots. Sometimes in our most wounded spots, we have a better capacity to give to others who are hurting because we are in touch with that woundedness, that pain.”
What started out in fun turned into an opportunity for spiritual growth. The group, females other than Lacasse and ranging in age from 11 to 60-something, made connections that would have been unlikely otherwise, as they talked about why they were donating their hair.
Cox said she was especially proud of the commitment of three teenage girls who participated despite their fears about how they would look. “One, who’s a dancer and has to be able to put her hair up by the time of her big recital in May, was saying ‘I don’t know if I should do this’ until the moment before the scissors started moving,” Cox said. “But she wanted to keep her commitment because she knew she was doing it for the right reasons.”
Ingram said the experience helped make the point “that giving is a way of life, and your whole life is useful. Any gift given in love can be used to change this world.”
Linda Brinson ([email protected]) is a Religious Herald contributing writer, based in Madison, N.C.