Perhaps I’m still somewhat naive and idealistic to this whole ministry thing. I say that because, to me, some things should just not be up for debate. One of those things is having worship on Sundays unless some sort of unusual situation – such as snow emergencies which close the roads, and the return of Christ – occurs which forces the worship service to have to be cancelled. Doing so is something I would never do flippantly and without a very good reason.
Perhaps out of this acknowledged idealism and naivety, I was reading a forum for clergy on Facebook and I was shocked to learn than many of my fellow clergy were planning to cancel worship on Christmas Sunday due to the holiday.
The excuses (note that I did not say “reasons”) given mainly centered around anticipated lack of attendance. And then someone said this:
Guess my priorities are wrong, then. We are not having a Sunday service on Christmas, at my request. If we had one I would be unable to be with my family for Christmas – some of whom I am only able to see every year or so. I’m single and my only family live a distance away.
Again, perhaps I am idealistic but in my opinion those of us who are called to pastoral ministry are also called to make sacrifices in order to answer that call. We are considered set apart for a reason. My parents and siblings and all of my wife’s family live a great distance away and we are sacrificing time with them so that we may worship Word made flesh. I’m sure there are at least a few people in each congregation who would love to cancel worship for any number of reasons but I could not in good conscience do such.
I make no apologies for thinking that canceling worship under the guise of “family time” communicates to the world that we are willing to give in to the whims of the world and celebrate not by worshiping but by celebrating as the world does. In short, many clergy and congregations have forgotten who we are and whose we are.
And yet, these people have the audacity to question why the church in America is dying.
When we cite “family time” as the reason to cancel worship on a holiday, we neglect our calling to gather as the family of Christ to worship and celebrate. Christmas is one of the highest and holiest days in the Christian church. If worship is scheduled on this day, there is absolutely no reason to cancel it so that families can spend an extra few minutes with their trinkets.
A clergy colleague relayed this story:
A couple women chewed out the cashier for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”…I was sitting next to them as they had many conversations including one about Christmas morning…
“I can’t believe our church is having services on Christmas morning…My husband has to hand out bulletins…Why don’t they just cancel it? I mean really…”
Me (inserting myself into their conversation): “Yeah, I just hate it when Jesus gets in the way of Christmas….Merry Christmas, right?” (they took their things & left, calling me a Christian name on their way out.)
Fellow pastors, such is our fault when we willingly cancel worship so that secular Christmas celebrations can take priority over worship as the body of Christ. The same people in the story above are the ones who scream the loudest about “keeping Christ in Christmas.” If we really mean that, we must put our money where our mouths are, unless we, like the two above, are simply giving lip service to Jesus.
Not to mention that not everyone has family to be with during the holidays and will find comfort with their church family. How dare we cite “family time” as a reason to cancel worship when we have such people in our midst.
Fred Day, the General Secretary of the General Board of Archives and History for the United Methodist Church (who I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know on the Wesley Pilgrimage in England this past summer), said this about Christmas worship:
Early Methodists in England and America saw [Christmas] as less illicit and more a golden opportunity to save souls. They viewed the increasingly popular, sometimes rowdy feast day as a prime-time for the pulpit: “Always avail yourselves of the great festivals (of the Church of England) by preaching,” says John Wesley in the Large Minutes. The unique opportunity Methodist preachers were to seize, like Christmas, is evident in a 1798 commentary on Wesley’s words: “Shall the men [ sic] of the world have carnal festivals on their birthdays and we not communicate the birth of the Lord.”
Let’s heed the words of Wesley and get back to our roots!
Yes, I’ve been on my soap box about this and very outspoken. Having worship on Christmas Sunday is something that I feel should not even be up for debate – simply, we should have worship even if it’s just the pastor and the pianist. If the church wants the world to remember why we celebrate Christmas, we must practice what we preach. It’s time for us to remember who we are and whose we are. Anything less just means that the culture of the world really is influencing the church rather than the other way around. Let’s not be party to such. We’re called to be better than that.