can it be Christmas without a carol service? (yes.)
There has been much discussion* about Christmas and church services this year. (*outcry, social media shouting, and some nastiness.)
What will they look like? Will they even take place? How will we manage a Christmas without the warm fuzzy glow that candlelit carol services gives us?
Church services at Christmas are a key part of the season, and can offer much needed care, support, community, and a sense of togetherness in a world that often makes us feel separate. But that doesn’t mean they are an essential part of Christmas, or that the church (specifically the Church of England) should feel it HAS to put these services in place.
Not having a church service will not change the events we commemorate there.
Not having a church service will not change our message of hope.
Not having a church service will not make our belief any less significant.
I believe there are two important things for us to reflect on before we jump into emergency COVID Christmas planning.
The church as a caring community. In Acts 6 we see the early church do something amazing. They put aside significant resources to care for those who are not being cared for by anyone else. Widows and orphans, who would have been neglected in the support structures of the time, are given a key place as cared for as part of the church. In doing this, we are set a key example of the role the church is to have; to care for the vulnerable within society.
Vulnerability has taken on a new meaning for many of us over the last few months. Many who would never have considered it as a label for themselves now feel acutely vulnerable when leaving the house, entering shops, or simply being around other people.
By emphasizing in-person gatherings, is the church looking out for the vulnerable in society, or is it looking after those who are able to look after themselves?
Are we guided by a consumer driven society? In planning for, prepping, and putting on Christmas services, are we bowing to a culture which demands something of us without being willing to engage with what we are?
Yes, some people’s engagement with church at Christmas is the only time they will engage, but is that enough of a reason to prioritise the services or should we be looking at other ways to engage with people?
The church should serve, but it should also ask how we as members of society can serve one another. It should challenge, lead, and inspire us to become more and more the people God created us to be, and that includes putting the needs of others before ourselves.
For these, and other reasons, I believe that the church should be guided in its planning for Christmas by the following questions:
How can those who are at risk find space to worship with you this season?
Are we bowing to culture's idea of Christmas rather than what we know of the season of hope?
How can your community use its energy and resources to serve practically at a time of need?
The last six months have been challenging in so many ways. Church leaders have had to balance their own feelings, exhaustion, and the bureaucracy needed to function as a body, with serving others in love and care. Christmas could further exacerbate those feelings. Let’s remind ourselves just how good God is, that we remember how Jesus and His family struggled through uncertainty, pain and hurt, yet never lost sight of the goodness of God.
And let’s pick up the challenge that this throws at us for our evangelism. How can we share the Good News of Jesus with those who aren’t yet part of the church community without relying on festivals?
23 October 2020
Jonny is our Church Resource Officer. Before that he was involved with Youth and Children’s Ministry for 15 years. He lives in York with his lovely wife and two sons. He loves all things cycling, and is trying to pretend that he could have gone pro if he had just had the chance.
Kelvin moved to a new area shortly before COVID-19 and so didn't have much time to get to know people. He shares how he's been able to share his faith with his barber and his neighbours even whilst the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Waterways Chaplaincy - part of the Church Army family - meets many isolated people or in financial difficulty along the waterways. This is one story of where Waterways chaplains were able to draw alongside and practically support a struggling family.
Pete looked round his church one Sunday and realised he was one of only two men. So he founded Shed Men as a place to give a place for men to meet and talk, and a place to share God's love.