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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2012 Archives > March-April 2012 > Taking Christmas to the world
Candlelight and Holy Communion added an air of familiarity as 300 people worshipped in a renovated warehouse.
Candlelight and Holy Communion added an air of familiarity as 300 people worshipped in a renovated warehouse.

Taking Christmas to the world

You might say that the Rev. Mack Strange uses the angels who heralded Christ's birth as a model when he chooses locations for Christmas Eve services.

According to Luke 2, the angels went to the shepherds in the field to tell them of their Savior's birth. Even if the shepherds had not run to the manger, they still would have heard the good news.

Strange serves Trinity United Methodist Church in Spring Hill, Tenn., a campus of Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church. He believes, "The church has to be more missional than it is. We are always inviting people to come to us when what we should have is a missional approach where we come to them." The Wesleyan tradition, he said, is to be "not exclusive, (but) more inclusive."

An impromptu choir formed from the congregation led singing at the Warehouse Christmas Service
An impromptu choir formed from the congregation led singing at the Warehouse Christmas Service

For the past decade or so, Strange has lived his contention by organizing candlelight Communion services on Dec. 23 and 24. Each year, at least one has been outside the church building, in sites such as prisons, bars and the parking lot of the Tennessee Titans' stadium.

On Dec. 23, 2011, the setting was Rocketown, a renovated warehouse in the heart of downtown Nashville that houses youth-outreach ministries. Strange and the church collaborated with Ingrid McIntyre, executive director of Open Table Inc., to organize the service and assure people in Nashville's homeless community they were welcome.

As the 5:30 p.m. service began, Rocketown's neighbors from the streets were worshipping beside people from Brentwood, which sits in one of the 25 wealthiest counties in the United State, and other churches.

People from all walks of life "came together to celebrate Christ's birth and experience a different glimpse of God's kingdom," said one of about 300 attendees.

"The service had such an excitement to it (with) previously solemn individuals jumping at the chance to participate (in the impromptu choir), donning purple stoles and singing familiar Christmas carols to a slightly country beat. The gaiety turned to poignancy as the Rev. Justin Collett delivered a message about addiction, redemption and everyone needing just a little bit of light. Holy Communion ... felt like a kingdom feast."

A formerly homeless man's rendition of
A formerly homeless man's rendition of "O, Holy Night" touched many.

The congregation was not limited to those gathered in the warehouse. United Methodist Communications streamed the service live at People watched, responded and sent prayer requests. A self-described atheist commented that the candle lighting "actually brought a few tears" to her eyes.

While the worship setting and mix of congregants were different, Strange intentionally included elements familiar to those with church experience.

"During the Christmas season, people aren't looking for contemporary; they are looking for the traditional," he said.

That is also true at Easter. He would include "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" in an outside-the-church service, offer a message of hope and consider restaurants, recovery centers or parking lots as the setting. Rethink Church staff adds bridges, parks where some homeless live and parking lots outside prisons as possible locations.

Strange's advice: "Think about where people in your community gather during the week or weekend; then bring them into that environment" to worship.

"People are not adverse to Christ or Christianity," Strange said. "They are adverse to our inability to be welcoming to them or showing them respect by going where they are.

"People are appreciative and thoughtful when we come."

The Rev. Kathy Noble, editor, Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine, with contributions from the Rev. Neelley Hicks, assistant director, Communications Ministry Group, United Methodist Communications.

AT A GLANCE Brentwood United Methodist Church | 309 Franklin Road | Brentwood, TN 37027 | (615) 373-3663 | | | Rev. Mack Strange (Trinity campus) | Average worship attendance: 2746 | Tennessee Conference


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