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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Christmas Morning Worship Redux

How will your congregation be celebrating Christmas day this year?

We explored this question on Ask the Matriarch several months ago (you can read it here). But I am thinking that there might be some updates and new ideas, so let's do it again!

Because our congregation has multiple services (4) on Christmas Eve, we only have a Christmas morning service when December 25th falls on a Sunday, as it does this year.

We've talked about Lessons and Carols for Christmas, or a traditional liturgy with communion. We have also talked about inviting people to come in their pajamas and bring their favorite gift with them.

I am definitely leaning toward the more creative this year - and am looking for some creative expressions of worship for Christmas morning that will delight but not totally upend our liturgical identity.

How will your congregation worship on Christmas Day...or, how do you wish that they would?

This from Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness:

We too have numerous services on Christmas Eve and find no energy left for Christmas Day. But through the years I have found that there have always been certain families in the congregation whose tradition call for 'going to church' following the festivities of Christmas morning every year, not just ones that fall on Sunday. Usually those services are small, intimate, with no music and quite informal. (I wouldn't get caught dead in my pj's even on Christmas!) I have often held this service in the chapel. One year I preached holding the newest member of the family in which 5 generations were represented and talked about the hope of the Incarnation.

In our 'program sized church' we will have only one service on Christmas morning in the main sanctuary. I believe that Sunday service is about 'resting' with the Lord. It will be small and without music-- but with communion, of course.

Whatever you do--enjoy it even if your energies are at an ebb. I have always dreaded those Christmas morning services but generally come away from them with such a sense of peace and affirmation.

And from kathrynzj:

About 3 years ago we began a Christmas Day service because there was no other place for a Protestant to worship on Christmas Day. In those years there were a few lessons and carols, the tiniest of communion meditations and a reading from a story or short book about the true meaning of the holiday.

This year we have three baptisms (same family) and also want to do Communion and so...
We are going to invite folks to come out 'as-they-are' and bring their favorite gift. We'll do a small Lessons and Carols (Luke 2 in 3 sections with 3 hymns afterwards) and then talk about gifts and then talk about the greatest gift - baptisms, Communion - done.

I think it will be fun although I am a little concerned since our 10am start time is usually about the time I am entering my post Christmas-Eve coma. We shall see...

Have your plans for Christmas morning worship changed? Have you made plans for Christmas morning yet? Let's talk about it here...

No lines, no waiting at the Matriarchs' mailbox - click here to ask us a question!

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. We're going to have a service on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m.), in large measure because this, I'm told, is what the church did in 2005, last time Christmas was on a Sunday. I am dubious about whether this will actually draw a better attendance than a service in the morning. But I am cheerfully planning what I am calling "Eccentric Vespers," with a message I hope will be winsome and inclusive and celebratory. Lots of music, probably mostly from my family. We're sharing the service with a neighboring church, and my colleague is a cellist, so I hope she'll play, too.
    In my first call, we had a very tender Communion service that Christmas morning, and I treasure the memory. Most UCC churches don't have a Christmas Day service when it's not on Sunday.

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  3. Songbird - I like the Sunday afternoon idea. I'll put it in my pocket for the next time Christmas Day is on Sunday.

    Our worship planning team has decided we'll worship on Christmas Day - with a strong endorsement from me. We're planning an informal service at the regular time for each congregation, and I've been warned it may just be me and one or two others there. We may or may not have an organist, but I'm a competent singer, so if we need to, we'll sing acapella. The service is out of our denominational worship planning guide and is based around the hymn "From Heaven Above to Earth I come." It's similar to a lessons and carols - which we'll have on New Year's Day. We observe Advent, so there really isn't much opportunity to sing carols before Christmas. The worship team wanted to make sure the Christmas season (and it's only 2 Sundays) had lots and lots of carols.

    I really do like the Christmas Day Vespers idea - it brackets the day with a joyous celebration on Christmas eve and the quieter vespers to close the day. Sort of a sunddown to sundown celebration.

  4. Hey there - well, this was my question back in August, and somehow I missed it then (guess I was on vacation) but wow, am i really appreciating it now! Thanks for the re-visit revhoney.

    We will begin as usual at 10:30, but our plan is:
    -coffee and continental breakfast beginning at 10:15 or so, which people will be invited to bring with them into sanctuary
    -so we'll begin worship about 10 minutes later, as people get settled
    -same order of worship as usual more or less, but during sermon time inviting people to tell stories of "christmas past" -- sharing a special memory or story
    - i really love the book Clown of God (depaola) and thought of reading that during the sermon, but can never get thru it without sobbing :b but if you are more stout hearted than I, I can recommend that.
    -hadnt thought of communion (i am soooo loooow) but that is a really wonderful idea
    -also expecting a small crowd - thinking 15-20 instead of usual 80-90, but I'm sure (like others of you) that there will be some people

  5. (end of my sentence did not quite make it, so should say)
    ...there will be some people visiting, and those who are there will ones who really need it, so am planning to make the parts around the storytime kind of quiet and serious.

    Not expecting any kids but my own, but I guess you never know.

  6. I'm glad we're having this conversation again - it's fun to see what other people are doing. I like the communion idea and am now thinking about how we might do communion in a lower-key, more intimate way than we usually do.

    I meant to ring in sooner (as a matriarch, for the column), but I let the week slip away from me. At any rate, our church doesn't have a Christmas service unless it falls on Sunday (we have our big Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve). In 2005, when Christmas was on Sunday, in place of the sermon my husband and I offered a reading of BBT's sermon God's Daring Plan . I love that sermon so much and I think it went over well. We had a generally festive, casual feel to the service.

    The last couple of years, Sunday has fallen so close to Christmas Day that we knew our numbers would be low (sad but true), and we took the opportunity again to make it a more intimate service. So two years ago, my husband/co-pastor preached his sermon from the main floor, sitting on a stool, sort of in more of a story-telling mode.

    Last year, we also did most everything from the main floor. I invited three different people (in advance) to offer testimonies about how God has become incarnate in their lives. I offered the fourth one. It was a very powerful, very moving service.

    For Advent this year, we are preaching from hymns/carols instead of Scripture texts (though Scripture will obviously be woven in), and we will continue that for Christmas morning. I already wrote this here on Monday, but here 'tis again:
    Advent 1 - Lo, how a rose e'er blooming
    Advent 2 - People, look east
    Advent 3 - O little town of Bethlehem
    Advent 4 - Away in a manger
    Christmas - Silent Night

    My husband and I generally take turns preaching, which is how we will do in Advent, but for Christmas we will prepare the sermon together and offer it together. We'll likely also lead "Silent Night" from guitar. This is the first time we've done this (preaching from Advent/Christmas hymns/carols), and I'm excited to see how it goes.

    We will invite everyone to come very casually (last year, some of our youth even showed up in pajamas), and will try to find other ways to make it warm and intimate as well.

  7. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have always had a different feel/flavor for me. Wherever I have served, both have been celebrated. It doesn't matter what day Christmas falls on. It is a major feast and we celebrate it, albeit it quietly.

  8. LAst year when Boxing Day was Sunday we had a very casual service. No bulletin, no liturgy. WE asked people what they wanted to sing. WE invited folks to share Christmas memories. We played some Christmas trivia.

    This year a neighbouring UCCAn church is holding Dec 25 worship and we are holding Jan 1 worship. I know that the Jan 1 service here will be along a similar format as last year was. Except instead of Chrismas memories we may talk about hopes/resolutions for the new year

  9. Christmas Day will be a lessons/carols/communion service at our usual Sunday time of 9 a.m. We usually have two Christmas Eve services, but opted to just have one this year. Partly because of also having worship Sunday, but also because attendance was pitiful at the late service last year.

    Time of our Christmas Eve service--4 p.m. (as selected by congregation survey)! This was usually the earlier of two and apparently loved.

    As a mom of a three year old and a six month old, I am exceedingly grateful because this schedule will allow us to do some fun family Christmas too, not dominated by mommy being gone at church all Christmas Eve and Day. We will leave town after worship Christmas Day for time with extended family and vacation time.

    I love hearing what others are doing and may file some away for the future.

    Oh--and I second The Clown of God recommendation. I love, love, love, that book!

  10. What Margaret said...

    We will have Eucharist at 10 am as we would if Christmas were any other day. No early service as we would if it were any other Sunday.

    Now I'm wondering about January 1? I'm guessing that numbers will be really small since it is New Year's Day, and we will probably have one service at 10 am. I would do lessons and carols, but I'm not sure our very small choir will be up for it that day.

    We will have an Epiphany service on January 6 since it is a Friday--simple potluck and chalk blessing and service with the story of the Magi.

    SB, I'll be interested in hearing how your Sunday/Christmas afternoon service goes. That's the time on Christmas when I'm likely to be comatose! Hope you have more energy.

  11. RDM, we didn't get home from our late Christmas Eve service last year until almost 1 a.m., so I guess I'm glad I don't have to be back to lead worship at 9:30 the next morning. And after the plan was made, my 25yo son said he would like to fly in on Christmas morning (he works Christmas Eve) as he did last year, so that made sense of the day. I'll get to have all three of mine at that 4 p.m. service, and their energy will boost mine, I'm sure.
    I wrote a sermon for Lectionary Homiletics on Psalm 148 (really a text for the following Sunday, when I will be on vacation), and I'm going to adapt it for Christmas afternoon. It interweaves the Psalm with the idea of the 12 days of Christmas, and I think for Eccentric Vespers we will add an Allan Sherman twist with my kids singing some of the verses of the songs (if they are willing to do this, which I believe they will be). His "partridge in a pear tree" is a "Japanese transistor radio." So clearly, my aim is celebratory whimsy.

  12. My experience here in Australia is so different . We moved our Christmas Eve carols to 23rd last year, and it was much better attended. Christmas morning is double, or more, the usual Sunday attendance.
    People who come to church once a year will come at Christmas. Christmas afternoon wouldn't work here, as people visit family on Christmas Day, I can remember as a child going to one set of grandparents for lunch and the other for dinner. some families spread this out now to Christmas eve or Boxing Day, so Christmas Day is a little less of a rush.

    New Years Day we will do lessons and carols, from Brian Wren's book " Advent, Christmas and Epiphany"

  13. On Christmas Day, we will not have our first two services but will gather at the usual third service time of 10:30. Hymns with organ, and communion as usual. For the past number of years, our preacher has been a long-time assisting priest who is also a retired seminary professor; he is so wonderful that there are people who make it to church just to hear him! With New Year's on a Sunday, we will be doing a similar service; we are near the Rose Parade and game, and although they won't be held until Monday, they provide enough extra chaos in the community to make simple the best route!

    I have a neat, not too long Keynote presentation that I would be glad to share with anyone. I took the first verse of several favorite Christmas hymns, putting them together to tell the Christmas story (Mary, Joseph, angels, etc.). I added artwork to illustrate each line in each verse. Project the art and the words, people sing along, pause for a little narration in between is simple and has been very well received when I have used it in two different settings. Short and simple for any time in the Christmas season.

  14. The last time this happened I was between congregations or "off" that year. The pastors used to take turns working on Christmas Eve in my last church which ROCKED!

    The congregation I serve now did not worship together on Sunday/Christmas morning. The week and night before they sent folks home with a little candle and a pre-written order of worship to lead in their homes.

    I pretty much insisted that we wouldn't cancel worship this year. If just my family showed up that was fine with me. I just didn't want to send the message to the people who don't have family around or who aren't having big Christmas morning celebrations for some reason that they were just going to have to be alone for the holiday. I offered the idea of the afternoon/evening service, but it was shot down pretty quick for conflicting with people's Christmas dinners.

    In the end we decided to do a very simple morning prayer service - songs, prayer, scripture, not much else. I was not going to prepare a sermon, but would possibly bring a reading of some sort. That changed a bit when we decided to have joint services with a Lutheran church whose building is under complete reconstruction. They are worshiping in an elementary school this fall and using our building for most of their weekday activities. They can't worship in the school at all over the holiday break, so we decided to do all our holiday services together. We each usually have 2 Christmas Eve services, so we're planning 3 together (1 family service in the afternoon, and 2 identical candlelight and communion services at 5 and 10 pm). I'm preaching those services while the Lutheran pastor will preside at the table. He's going to organize and preach on Dec 25 and Jan 1 in exchange. Awesome!!!

    We usually worship at 9:30 on Sunday with fellowship afterward, but on Christmas we're going to have fellowship at 9:30, and worship at 10:00.

    On top of all that I'm on vacation the second Sunday in January, so I have almost a month and a half off from preaching other than Christmas Eve because of the choir and children's programs in worship during Advent. Crazy. I preach this week, Dec. 4, Christmas Eve, then not again until Jan 15. Insane!

  15. I'm delurking for this, because (with DH) I'm leading our service on the 25th, and I'm also responsible for the service on the 18th.

    I come from a culture and country (Scotland Presbyterian) where, like Pearl, attendance is up on Christmas Day, but I live in a culture and country (France Baptist) where hardly anyone comes - but the few who come appreciate it, and its often the other foreigners, including some who are asylum seekers living in fairly grim hostels. So there will be a short, informal service (still looking for ideas) followed by mulled wine and some sort of foodie option (mince pies ? cake ?) and I will cook more lunch than my family can possibly eat and be prepared to scoop up waifs and strays and take them home and feed them.

    Previous years we have done shortend lessons and carols (shh, don't tell the baptists, they don't "do" liturgy, but they don't notice if you don't point it out). Hymns simple and traditional. One year we provided cut out angel-shapes (internet download) and invited people to write the message they needed to hear from the angels and then during a song we all went forward and added our angels to a display. I copy a tradition from the church I grew up in and invite people to say what their favourite gift was and then we say thankyou for them all together (but we might go carefully with this this year because some of our asylum seekers might not have much in the way of gifts....) There will be some sort of short comment by myself or DH. I LOVE the idea of sharing communion. Maybe sitting in a circle. Need to talk to DH about it.

    On the 18th, one of our Sundayschool team who does storytelling is going to tell the Christmas story "differently". We'll have a mix of traditional hymns and contemporary worship songs. (I have a mental image of the children bringing lit candles forward to put somewhere as yet undecided while the congregation sings "Come, Now is the time to Worship" - but the sensible part of my brain is saying something about fire-risk, and also, do Baptists "do" candles ?) I'm flirting with the idea of not having a sermon, but the rest of the team, including the storyteller, want some sort of comment - to pull all the threads together. So it will probably be a short muse on the concept of Emmanuel, God with us.

    One year we did an improvised Nativity play that I got off the web - if anyone is interested I'm sure I can find it again. It worked in a scary sort of way.

    The thing we will NOT do again: a few years back DH and I had offered to lead a short Christmas service. Except we forgot (yes, I'm blushing as I type) We remembered after midnight on the 24th (so officially already Christmas day) well through a bottle of wine, after finishing wrapping the kid's presents. Not the best prepared service we've ever lead though it came together....

  16. Hey Alison,
    LOVING your angel idea. MIght just borrow that if my other idea falls thru.
    I also have a spontaneous christmas pageant (borrowed and adapted from Sue @ Inner Dorothy) that I can share if you or others are interested.

  17. Ooh, I'm interested in having a look. By spontaneous Christmas pageant, do you mean that it involves the people who show up at church that morning, without prep? Sounds fun!

  18. Hey Earthchick (and anyone else who's interested). Email me -- pastor at hillsdaleucc dot org and I'll send you what I have. Again, owes a lot to our dear Inner Dorothy.

    Yes, everyone who shows up has a part. We put little piles of costumes for wise men, angels, shepherds and townspeople in 4 parts of the sanctuary and everyone just changes right there. It works great for our small congregation of 80 or 90 folks. With more, not sure how it would go? Costumes at our place are rather elaborate, because we have people who like to do that sort of thing, but works fine to be very simple, too.

    Sometimes I choose a Mary and Joseph in advance, and walk thru it with them once, but not every year - both ways work. It's a good idea to have a "director" who tells people when to walk up, but it's pretty clear from the script, too, so you dont really need that either.

    This was born out of desperation when we had no children at all. I have a not-very-hammy congregation, so was not sure how it would go at first, but they love it,a nd now that we actually have some children they would never go for a "regular" one I'm sure. The grownups like it more than the kids I think :)

    There's lots of singing of carols by congregation and lots of places to put in special music, if you have musical folks. We sometimes have a couple of trombonists doing sound effects, which is enjoyable.

    Usually do this the Sunday after Christmas as a fun way to unwind, but this year we are doing it instead on first Sunday in Advent, as a way to get the story in our bones at the start of the season.

    Hmm, sorry this got so long. I love this day, so I can get rambling on about it.

  19. We are do a walk-on Christmas pageant at our big, 5:00 Christmas Eve service this year; the main roles will be filled ahead of time and it will have narration (and hymns, I think), but the 75 or so younger kids who show up will be invited to jump in. The rector has done this before in her previous church, and I have great hopes for it being the start of a new tradition!

  20. We did a spontaneous Christmas pageant last year for the family Christmas Eve service and it was a HIT! I'm sure I got the idea here, but for the text, if I remember correctly, I found some sort of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" knock-off with the biblical story instead of the Santa story. It was not very long, and we made up little actions for all the kids. They sat in their groups on the floor in front of the chancel and when the shepherds did something they all stood and acted that out then took their place on the chancel in their nativity position. When the angels did something they all stood and then took their place. Etc, etc.

    It was a HUGE success last year and even score us the front page photo of the Christmas Day newspaper in St. Paul, MN. So much fun.

    We didn't fill any roles ahead of time, and really I was sort of hoping there'd be like 5 Marys, but it didn't happen. I don't think we're doing it this year, but maybe. Our new family ministry director is planning that service. Last year we did it because we promised parents we would only do children' Christmas programs every other year. It was an off year, but since this required no prep or rehearsals or anything, I thought it would be a fun way to have the kids to the traditional thing in a non-traditional, non-stressful way.

  21. Our spontaneous nativity came from an idea from Scripture Union in the UK, but it seems to have disappeared from their site.

    Basically we alternated hymns and readings and I picked people out come forward and gradually form a "tableau" at the front. We brought some basic props, and scattered them round the room so that people could "find" them when they needed them. From memory we started with an innkeeper, then Mary and Joseph - then we added shepherds and various other participants. We had the "wise men" go round and collect the offering in their decorated shoe-boxes that represented their gifts.

    We teetered on the brink of chaos a couple of times, but only myself and the pastor were aware of it, and it was well received.

    We were fortunate to have a 6 month old to add at the end to represent Jesus. (A particularly moving little touch was that he was the baby of 2 asylum seekers in the congregation - it gave it a particular resonance. Of course you can't plan for that sort of thing.) We didn't ask participants do anything other than sit as part of the tableau - no speech. Props and costumes were simple, and mostly were cloaks of some sort. I think we managed some stuffed sheep toys and a walking stick to represent a shepherd's crook. I wouldn't do it every year, because I like the "suprise" aspect, but I would do it again. It was also a great way to integrate a new family - they were delighted to be asked to participate and have been with us since.

    We are a small church, so I think we managed to involve all the children in crowd scenes. We're a small enough community that I was able to call on people with a fair degree of certainty that they would be happy to play along. (Though I'm so glad I took the risk of asking the new family. I had a plan B up sleeve in case they said no.)


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