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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Is There Any Holy in Holiday Any More?

Hotcup mused recently at her blog about the tensions between Christmas celebrations and Christmas worship...and navigating those as a pastor.  Please join in the conversation in comments here, or at Hotcup's Happenings...and if you blog about this at your own place, do leave a link. 

it was a random, yet not so random conversation. it was about the holidays, Christmas to be specific and how this young newlywed couple would be spending it. it's hard when you first set out to figure where you go when...especially if there's a her side, a his side, the other side and what not. families are intricate. in the course of conversation, i tried to dig a bit and guide gently and ask "so what is at the heart of the holiday for you? i mean what matters most?"

rather unsurprisingly there was no mention of church. worship. Jesus. o holy night. nothing like that. curious i thought. time with family became the #1 thing that mattered  most. okay yeah... families are important, i get that... except of course the holy family, because very few people seem to make the connection between them and the holiday... aside from you know a cute little baby.

 grrr...  i have organists who are in a feud about who plays when for Christmas because no one wants to give up time with their family...  folks complain about the time of worship interfering with their opening of gifts or their family's soup supper. really people? Christmas is about you after all. so i say let's not have "services" at specific times. the hell with it. we'll just leave church open for quiet meditation on Christmas eve... this way people can come when they want. and while they are here they can do what they want. they can sing the hymn they adore, which for some reason didn't make the worship bulletin.

there are far too many silly expectations! what happened to a yearning to connect to the divine? perhaps then this is my calling for worship... to help them make the connection. to help them look beyond the soup and packages. to help them open themselves up to the reality that this is not about them... and only them. that really it is about all of us... even the people we find repulsive. even the people who have done horrible things. didn't this child come for them too? and because he did, can't we just empty out some of that hatred we've been carrying around... for "those" people... *sigh*

it's a crappy time of year to be a pastor. i know other pastors face the exact same predicament. but i'm wondering if anything we do in worship, matters anymore? do words just fill the air and ride away on a breeze? why worry about crafting worship as an experience... when folks just want to sing their favorite carols, watch the children be cute and go home? because it's shallow... and the world is filled with shallowness...  the mysteries of god are so much deeper, and that scares most. they don't want to go there... and yet deep down, i think they do... they're just afraid of what they might discover. it's a raw, emotionally raw time of year. i'm having trouble navigating. anyone else?


  1. Hotcup, and Mary Beth, thanks for this blog. the various expectations about Christmas are difficult. In Australia Christmas comes in the long Summer school holidays.
    I must admit I get frustrated year round at the reasons 'regular attenders' have for not being at worship - guides, sport, family etc. I wonder if any of these other activities ever get told, we can't come we are going to church? enough ranting!
    Most years I get asked if I am going away for Christmas [not by the congregation, but other people in the community who know I am a minister]
    as we have lots of visitors on Christmas Day, the service is geared that way. Your blog has me thinking; I may break my advent rule, and surprise the congregation with Christmas a week early - a Christmas service for those who are regular attenders, with reflection time; something a bit denser that Christmas morning.

    thanks for this timely piece.

  2. I really liked this post a week ago and I still do. It is frustrating to think of this holiday either being a "showpiece" or an inconvenience, but never a whole-hearted celebration of the goodness of God and the power of God with us. I think people think they feel more moved by a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie than church at Christmas, but they're willing to invest 2 hours in one and not the other. We have pretty good services, but Hotcup's idea of an open place of meditation sounds pretty appealing.

  3. My favorite thing about Christmas is our church's Christmas morning worship. Our small church is located in the heart of a small community. At 7am Christmas morning a couple dozen of us show up in our pajamas to ring the church bells and worship. We ring the bells and sing a couple of hymns outside for all the neighborhood to hear (even in the snow) and then head inside to share a bit of scripture, a few prayers and more hymns. There is no bulletin or order of worship. We sing and share and pray as people feel moved to do so. Our pastor generally guides this service with loose command and ties it together with a charge at the end.

    We have small kids in our family and it is important for us to do this every year before the kids are allowed downstairs to see the Santa loot. It keeps us all centered on the Christ in Christmas. When I've been away for Christmas, I miss this worship service more than anything else.

  4. The post/newsletter article I wrote this month is partially about my frustration with wanting to cancel worship on Christmas Sunday. We are having worship, but we had to discuss and vote on it. Which got me thinking about a pew time conversation I had with kids and my favorite U2 Christmas song. In my own house Christmas becomes and odd time because my son spends every other year with his dad who doesn't do God/church. So I have to walk a line of sharing my traditions and belief about God coming again and anew to save the world and let my son be with each parent on his own terms. What is Christmas about?

  5. I was absent from the computer yesterday, but had to add my comment. This post struck a deep chord in me, especially since even my own family, really doesn't GET IT when I tell them that I'm usually pretty well worn out by the time Christmas Day rolls around, and thank you very much, I'd rather they host the feast.

    But on the other hand, I realize that for many folk, this may be their only involvement with a worshipping community so I try to do the best I can; remembering that I am a seed sower and that it is God who brings the harvest.

    Last year, I spent Christmas Day bringing Communion to folks who were unable to get to church over the Christmas season. At one visit, I found myself celebrating Communion with one dear saint and her family of 14 who had gathered at her bedside along with some nursing staff who were working Christmas Day. I also visited and celebrated communion with another who has been in an institution for several years now. I count myself lucky that I'm single and my children grown so that I can spend the better part of the day serving others and then go to someone's house, kick off my shoes and be waited on.

    This year, we will have our usual service, likely quite small, and then I will pack up the communion elements and go out into the wards and hallways of our hospitals and nursing homes. After my experience last year, I've found that it made my Christmas the best ever.


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