In December of 2013, a week before Christmas, a major ice storm hit the Canada from Ontario to the Maritimes. This storm resulted in 27 deaths, loss of power to over a million residents and millions of dollars in damage. The strongest memory I have of that week was the anxiety over Christmas Eve services. Many churches cancelled altogether. Some, like ours, got power back just in the nick of time. Others chose to go ahead with candlelight services in coats and hats. For many of them, Christmas Eve 2013 was one of the most memorable ever experienced.
This Christmas, 2020 we face another storm, different in its scope but unique because we see it coming. We already know that this coming Christmas will be unlike any other in memory. The only question is how?
The purpose of this article is to encourage you to begin to plan for Christmas now (If you haven’t already). It is also to urge you to begin to have an honest conversation with your people; your session and congregation about their expectations and hopes for Christmas this year. If everyone has the opportunity to state what is most meaningful to them, to hear what others are hoping for, and to know what is possible and what is not, people will be ready and Christmas can be made special and even memorable in 2020.
As I write this, Canada has just marked the 10,000th death fro Covid-19, and cases continue to rise in almost every area of the country. Provincial leaders are increasing restrictions and it is possible that churches might be closed again by Christmas. While we don’t know what will happen, we do know that we will need to be flexible and nimble, and that we will probably need a plan B and even a plan C this year.
As you plan, here are some thoughts.
Before Christmas Eve
- You may want activities for families leading up to Christmas. I would invite you to take advantage of the resources Tori Smit has already posted on the synod website www.cnob.org
- Tori Smit has also written a service of lessons and carols to be pre-recorded by families in their homes for the whole congregation. It can be found here: https://www.cnob.org/?p=1916 (This could also be used Christmas eve)
- You might consider other ways the church can minister to its people in this season. This could include Christmas Cards (real ones!) for members. You might distribute advent calendars. How else might you connect with people in non-virtual ways this season?
- Are there are things you can do outside? A living nativity or drive by activity could be possible with protocols observed. (Mary and Joseph and baby in the same bubble!)
- Many churches have a longest night service. This year such a service would be especially important.
- Some congregations are contemplating in-person worship just for Christmas Eve. If so, consider opening a week or two in advance to practice. You might need to issue some sort of ticket to ensure you don’t have to turn people away. Of course the usual protocols will apply.
- If you can, you may want to have two distinct services for Christmas Eve. The first service would be the in-person service which could be also be live-streamed. The second would be a pre-recorded service that people could watch in their homes ataxy time chosen by them.
- Perhaps two or more in-person services could be held to accommodate more people. The key to this would be the cleaning in between services. You should canvass your people regarding attendance and again, tickets might be necessary.
- Since people moving within the church is not allowed, consider pre-recording readers or special music and presenting it on a screen instead.
- Many people, especially seniors, will be home alone this Christmas day. How we might minister to them? Perhaps a pre-recorded service or a short live one. Another option could be as simple as setting up a phone chain to wish people a Merry Christmas or a short Zoom gathering to wish people well. Any attempt to reach out will be greatly appreciated.
After Christmas Day
- Take some time off. This has been an exhausting year. Elders, consider gifting your minister the week between Christmas and New Year’s off as a way of saying thank you. Ministers, consider a pre-recorded service on the 27th, or a link to another church service to get a break from worship planning. In the age of COVID it is even okay to have no service at all.
- Take this time after Christmas for your own family celebrations and to attend to your needs. You all need it!
Finally, if I can make one further suggestion: Keep it simple. Keep it traditional. This is not a year for novel scriptures or hymns; it is not a time for unusual services or extravagant events. This is a year for the familiar and comforting. It is a time to sing traditional hymns and to hear the story in a simple and comforting way.
Remember, “The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
(Luke 2:10-14 NRSV)
May you give and receive a special and memorable Christmas this year