News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
Christmases Past and Present
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, about ten miles southwest of New Castle, near where the Pennsylvania turnpike enters Ohio. The Presbyterian Church I attended was located in a predominantly farming community, although many people worked in heavy industries like the steel mills and other factories in Youngstown, Beaver Falls, and New Castle. The church my family attended was called Westfield, because in 1803 a farmer donated his west field to the new church. Because of the farming influence, all evening activities at the church started at 8:00 p.m., after the afternoon milking chores and supper were complete.
In the early 1970’s, the church had a rather unique way of celebrating Christmas Eve. The service was held not in the church building or even outside of it. The service was held in the barn of one of the church members. We would meet in the barn on the level where the hay was stored, seated on bales. While singing carols like “Away in a Manger,” chances were the singing was accompanied by the lowing of cattle from the stalls on the lower floor of the barn!
I’m not sure how long the church kept up this service, as eventually I was off to college and then seminary, but I doubt that they hold Christmas Eve services in that fashion these days. Farming is still an important part of that community, but the church took on more of a suburban character as the years progressed.
In 2009, the Shenandoah Valley had a snowfall of close to two feet on December 23. A snowfall of any depth is always a challenge for Virginia, but two feet is beyond that. The next day, the streets in Staunton were plowed but there were four to five-foot piles of snow on the sidewalks, and the parking lots downtown near the church I was serving were not plowed. If people could have found a place to park, they would have had to walk in the street until they came to an area where we had carved a path through the snow banks to the sidewalk. Then there was the melting-refreezing that had taken place, leaving many areas icy. We wound up cancelling the service out of caution so as to not have anyone fall and hurt themselves trying to get into the church. I felt like Scrooge cancelling Christmas Eve services, something that never happened when I served churches in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
My thoughts turned to these Christmases past as I thought of the Advent and Christmas season which is now upon us. A subject of conversation in weekly pastor Zoom meetings has been how to hold Christmas services in these COVID times. Some churches have been holding services outside on church lawns or as drive-up services in parking lots. Others have been meeting with limited attendance in sanctuaries or fellowship halls, combined with an online presence. It is the continuation of our experience in this “when life gives lemons make lemonade” year.
If you are still struggling with what to do with Christmas Eve and other services, or are perhaps pivoting to something different given the surge in positive cases the past month, I found some interesting ideas when searching on the internet (search “ideas Christmas Eve worship COVID”). Results included:
One more option is CFP’s own Christmas season VBS-style event presented by the Leadership Development Committee, titled “Journeys with Jesus.” This program is modeled after Presbyterian Outlook’s Staycation VBS curriculum, and will be offered December 28-31 from 10:00-11:30 am via Zoom. The curriculum will focus on the travels of Jesus, encouraging families to engage in service projects with the Lil Baby Jesus character (like Flat Stanley) during Advent leading up to the event itself. It is geared toward elementary aged children (K-5th Grade) and will include active and engaging activities such as story time, crafts, and science projects, prayer and worship, and connecting children of our churches through breakout discussion times. For more information or to register children for this, go to: http://www.cfpresbytery.org/upcoming-events.html or contact Cheryl Carson.
May the blessings of this holy season e yours as we once again celebrate the wonders and joy of Christmas, the in-breaking of God’s light which cannot be overcome by any force, in whatever form. Merry Christmas and happy New Year!
Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams