Over the past month I have read a number of discussions regarding how churches are dealing with Christmas. Some churches, for reasons of their own, are cancelling services on Sunday the 25th because it is Christmas Day. This happens every few years and I am always a little mystified as to why churches would be closed. To my way of thinking, Christmas is a great moment of celebration for the church, second only to our celebration of resurrection at Easter (which is always on a Sunday morning). I can’t imagine missing the opportunity for the church to celebrate that moment together.
Many churches celebrate a Christmas Mass or have a Christmas worship service every year. Many more have a special celebration of Christmas Eve that ends at midnight so that they can ring in the Christmas morning. I suppose that it is only a matter of convenience that more of us don’t do the same. And so I don’t really understand the thought process that goes into cancelling church on this amazing day of celebration. I understand that many of our volunteers as well as many members of our congregations will be celebrating Christmas morning with their families. But many of them have that conflict every year during our celebration of Christmas Eve. Before I was called into the ministry, our own family often skipped Christmas Eve services in order to be with our family as they celebrated. That never stopped any of our churches from holding Christmas Eve services and I really don’t see the difference with a Christmas Day Sunday.
In on recent conversation on a friend’s Facebook page, the discussion on this subject became a little heated with some folk throwing out words like “pathetic” and others claiming that the logistics of holding services without some of their key volunteers was too complex. In any case, here is what I posted:
Wow. There’s no need for any of us to get so riled up. I don’t know any of you, or your experience in the church, or what you churches are, or have been, like. But from where I sit, there just really isn’t a good reason to cancel church for anything, on any Sunday, that isn’t safety related. Fire, break in, smoke damage, ice, those things, though unusual and thankfully fairly uncommon, are reasons to cancel church. I’ve had to cancel our services when the parking lot was so ice covered it was more suitable as a skating rink and we genuinely feared that the only way to keep our octogenarians off of it was to cancel.
Now I admit that I have also been witness to some enormous gaps in understanding between tiny churches, medium sized churches, and all the way up to mega churches. I don’t pretend to understand the logistics needed for churches that worship thousands each Sunday, but I’ve led worship in places where 30 was a decent week and others where 2 or 3 hundred was the goal for Christmas Eve.
That said, from my point of view, I and my staff work every Sunday, every week, including the biggest holiday of the year, Easter Sunday. Working on Sunday’s and holidays is, and should be, expected for church staff just as it is for nurses and a great many others. It’s a bit of an occupational hazard. Volunteers are something else of course. I expect that some of our usual folk won’t come on Christmas Eve every year because they’ll be with family. I assume the same will be true of Christmas Day. And so, while I can’t imagine NOT having a service on Christmas Day, I do expect there to be some difference in scale. Not as many folks will come, not as many volunteers will come, no one will likely want to come as early or stay as long as long. So we’ll work around that. If there aren’t nursery workers, the nursery will be closed. We probably won’t have Sunday school, or the second of our two worship services. We took a poll several weeks ago, and virtually all of them said they’d prefer to come to the early service and go home.
I’ve had Christmas Eve services in a blizzard where we barely had twenty people, and at that, only because half of them came from a single family for the baby baptism. This Wednesday we tried celebrating a Blue Christmas, which was new for us, and we didn’t do a good job of getting the word out.
Four people came.
My pianist, Janet, and I had worship with them anyway.
And so yes, we’ll be open on Christmas morning for anyone that wants to come. If its hundreds, hallelujah. And if it’s four or five, God bless ’em we’ll have church. It might be small and cozy, and it might lack an accoutrement or two, but we’ll worship the Lord together regardless.
And yes, as always, I’ll be at Trinity Church on Christmas Sunday morning at 9:30 am and we’ll have church for as many, or as few, as can make it.
Wherever you are, however you choose to celebrate, may you all have a very Merry Christmas as we all, together, celebrate the birth of the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.