When Christmas comes on Sunday
by Ciona Rouse
Once every five to six years, one of the most holy days of the Christian year falls on Sunday, giving congregations an opportunity to celebrate as a church family the gift of Jesus to the world.
Planning worship for Christmas Day can be tricky since many families have Christmas Day traditions that do not include going to church. While many churches hold Christmas Eve services, most do not have Christmas services
unless the day falls on a Sunday.
Some congregations veer from their normal worship experiences to plan a special service on Christmas Day.
The Rev. Lucinda Holmes, currently director of worship at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., once planned a toy-blessing service. Each child brought a Christmas gift for the church to bless their playtime. In another church, she hosted a coffee brunch so that people spent Christmas morning with their families.
First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville, Md., plans a morning service where people sing their favorite holiday hymns and share what Christmas means to them.
The Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach, pastor of First Church, said at other churches she has invited members to share special gifts they gave or received. She ended the service by sharing the special gift of Jesus to the world.
The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources for the General Board of Discipleship, suggests every congregation serve Communion on that Sunday since Christmas is the “Feast of the Incarnation.”
“Christmas Day itself is a major feast day, and so if you weren’t going to serve communion other times of the year, Christmas certainly is a day you would.”
Burton-Edwards recognizes that Christmas Day services often have low attendance. The Board of Discipleship will provide online resources this fall that “maintain the full integrity of the day while being sensitive to the culture, which includes family and children and gift-giving,” he said.
The Rev. Jack King, associate pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., experienced Christmas Day in Newcastle, England, in 2004. The Newcastle congregation holds services every Christmas Day, even when it is not a Sunday, he said. Addition-ally, they host a meal for people who are not celebrating with relatives.
“It gave me a new perspective of family,” King said. “Shouldn’t we all celebrate [Christmas] with the family of God?”
The Rev. Cedrick Bridgeworth of Crenshaw United Methodist Church in Los Angeles plans to use Bible studies and narrative liturgy during Advent so that worshippers are enthusiastic about hearing the full story on Christmas Sunday.
“No matter what you do, it’s important that you have worship,” emphasized the Rev. Lisa Yebuah, associate pastor of Millbrook United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
Here are some other ways to make Christmas Day worship on Sunday special:
* Gift-wrap items such as a candle, a dove ornament, mistletoe, etc. Let a different child unwrap each gift. The pastor shares a message about the light coming into the world (candle), peace (dove) or how God sends us holy kisses each day (mistletoe).
* In Sunday school classes before Christmas, have children and teenagers create art expressive of the Christmas season. Shape the liturgy around artful expression. Display art before the service or in the sanctuary.
* Invite all Sunday school classes to create prayers for peace during Advent. Include the prayers in Christmas Sunday worship.
—Ciona Rouse, freelance writer, Nashville, Tenn.