I’ve been getting lots of questions about how we will celebrate Christmas in our churches this year.
“Will our children be able to present their annual Christmas pageant, with their much-loved costumes and wonder-filled way of telling us the story?”
“We will be able to gather on Christmas Eve, in candlelight, and lift our voices in praise as we light the Christ candle and welcome the Jesus into our world?”
The sad answer to both of these questions is that it is highly unlikely that we will doing either of these things this Christmas, or at least not in the same way that we have in the past. Covid-19 protocols mean that if we gather in our sanctuaries for these beloved Christmas rituals, we will not be able to have a variety of lay readers and cast members assembling at the front of the sanctuary to lead us through the nativity story, and we will not be able to have the congregation lifting its voice in wonderful songs of praise.
But, this doesn’t mean we won’t be able to worship and celebrate the season together with all of the wonder and awe that accompanies these much beloved church events. However, if we do wish to include multiple readers, child actors and lots of singing we will need to plan for these special Christmas services differently. By meeting over Zoom, and/or through the use of video recordings, and by embracing online streaming we will be able to make it happen in a new and unique way this year.
So, what follows is an outline for a simple Lessons and Carols script that can be used with Zoom and/or by video recording. The script is suitable for use a children’s pageant or as a script for a simplified service of Lessons and Carols that might on Christmas Eve.
The scripture texts included are well-known and brief. Each was chosen because of their simplicity and because they are the most treasured texts of the Christmas season. This, I believe, will bring some of the much-needed comfort we desire in these days of unpredictability. The Christmas carols included are also very well-known. By choosing the most familiar Christmas hymns it is my hope that people participating in this worship service will gladly sing out with joy at home by themselves or with their family members.
There are a variety of ways you might want to use this script.
Children’s Christmas Pageant
It could be used by churches as a recorded children’s pageant simply by inviting eight families with children to video record their assigned part at home with all of their family members reading and reenacting their assigned text using a computer or cell phone video app. Families could divide their assigned reading into individual speaking parts if more than one person wanted to be a reader, or one person could do the reading for the recording while everyone else acted out the portion of the story assigned to their household. Parents should be encouraged to take an active role in the family’s recording, making this a more intergenerational pageant for the church to enjoy.
Go ahead and encourage each household to go through their costume box, linen cupboard and Christmas decoration boxes to find tinsel halos, dressing gowns and tea towels to transform their family members into Mary and Joseph and any angels, shepherds, innkeepers, and Magi that are needed to make an appearance in their assigned text. For the sake of time and to prevent some confusion, it may be best to encourage families to reenact the their part of the story as a silent background to the reading of their text, or as to create a series of still-life tableaus that can be presented alongside the reader(s).
Offer guidance to your families on how they might consider presenting their assigned reading. Give a suggested length of time for each reading (2 – 3 minutes per reading at most), note how people might be needed for their text, and how the scripture might be divided into various parts. Also give latitude for each family to consider together how they might want to present their assigned reading. By asking each household to plan their own original contribution to the production you gift them with the added opportunity to read and discuss the text together, to discover what stands out to them, and what is most meaningful, and then to convey all of this to the whole church.
Once each family has recorded their part, they should email their video to a pageant director for editing. The director would put the play together with each submitted recording placed in chronological order. The addition of recorded hymns for everyone to sing along with at home can then be placed in between each scripture texts to round add fullness to the story and involve congregational participation. In this scenario the pageant would finally become one complete recording that can be presented online through the church’s website or over Youtube.
Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols
Or, the script could be used as a simple Christmas Eve service with selected households asked to do much the same as noted above.
At the church these recordings could be assembled in a variety of ways. For an in-person worship service the videos could be played on a screen, spaced between each of the hymns in the place of lay readers who have traditionally walked to a microphone at the front of the sanctuary. If the church enjoys having the holy family, shepherds and others assemble on the platform as well, have this reenacted within the recordings themselves to keep the front of the sanctuary free from extra people. In this case, those who are viewing the service through a live feed from home would see the videos at the same time as those who are present in the building are viewing them, with the added bonus that those at home are able to sing the hymns out loud in their homes.
The hymns noted in the script can always be swapped out for other preferred hymns, and perhaps a solo or virtual mass choir piece could be added in. For a fuller Christmas Eve service, prayers as well as short meditation could be included.
A Live Zoom Option
Finally, a small church might consider holding the service completely live over Zoom with eight households assigned in advance their scripture readings. Members of each house would be encouraged to wear costumes suitable for the part they are responsible for. If there is a family in your church with a baby they would be perfect readers for the Luke 2: 1-7 reading. Doing this live over Zoom comes with some risk, but also provides a platform for a more intimate and less orchestrated event.
Finally, you will find that there are two versions of the script attached below (just click on the download buttons). They are the same script, but one uses the New Revised Standard Version for its scripture readings, while the other makes use of the more contemporary The Message. You may determine that one or the other is more suitable for your context.
I hope that this resource may help you as you consider how your church will answer the questions you’ve been getting as you prepare for Christmas. Even if you decide not to use the scripts attached, I hope the ideas for video recordings and family contributions help you imagine a new and creative way of telling the most amazing of all stories this Christmas.