Missing Church at Christmastime

This past Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, or what we more often refer to as Christmastime. So… right on cue… the church I have been attending online had us sing Christmas carols. Specifically, we sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

What I am about to admit may seem shocking (even terrible) for a pastor, but when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to sing Christmas carols with a host of other voices, I missed church for the first time since the pandemic began.

As a pastor, I love people. I have always missed being with people, but the church politics, the complaints about the coffee, the pressure to perform on Sunday mornings, the egos, the office drama… ugh! I have enjoyed worshipping just with my family and the other family in our ‘bubble.’

When we sang that Christmas carol, I really felt the loss. With that realization, I faced a question that many of you are facing: what will I do with this feeling? Will I wallow in it… nurse either victim-hood or resentment? Or will I use it as an opportunity to assess what is really important about church community and make that a priority (instead of what brand of coffee is used at church or worse, figuring out how to sidle up to influential people at the church to get what I want).

I would encourage you all, pastor and parishioner alike, to use this Christmastime to re-evaluate and realign your ministry and your attitude for greater health, greater effectiveness and greater faithfulness. Start with what God is calling the church to do: worship of him and discipleship of others. We’ll leave worship aside for the moment to talk about discipleship.

What is discipleship? It is the process by which Christ-likeness takes shape in us as individuals and community (Rom. 8:29). What does this look like? “He has told you, O man, what is good/and what does the Lord require of you/but to do justice, and to love kindness,[1]/ and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). Justice, mercy and fidelity. Another way to put it: do what’s right, let grace be at the center of your life and hold on tightly to God and each other!

And it begins… not with ministries around the world or even the economically poor on the other side of the metro area… but with your neighbor! Imagine what our communities and churches would be like if we actually loved each other passionately but gave each other grace to struggle and held on to each other for dear life. Now THAT’S a community worth missing. I write from a suburban perspective and as a pastor serving in suburban settings, our churches tend to focus ministry to ‘other places.’ Sure, we have youth ministry and children’s ministry, but “mercy ministries are for ‘other’ people… ‘other’ places.” That has never been true and certainly not true in the pandemic.

We have families and children with special needs. Do we see them? Do we make accommodations for them? Do we love them well?

We have parishioners, including youth, struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Pain killers, meth and pot use are rampant in our communities. They are ruining lives and quite literally taking lives. Do we slow down enough to notice? Do we build deep enough relationships for people to feel safe so they can entrust us with their struggle?

People in assisted living facilities are lonely. Have you thought about taking your social “bubble” to carol outside these places. Mari de Villa, Mason Pointe, Del Mar Gardens (all in West County St. Louis) and many other facilities are filled with folks who might be blessed by strangers singing outside their windows and being reminded they matter.

Maybe we just put up the outdoor projector and screen in the backyard, put the words of Christmas carols up and invite the neighbors to a socially distanced time of singing (maybe for just 30 minutes… its getting cold outside!).

We can’t celebrate Christmas in the ways we are used to. But maybe that provides us an opportunity to flesh out what we really care about in new ways. With you, I am missing familiar Church traditions this Christmastime. Let’s find new ways to be the Church and in the process find greater health, greater effectiveness and greater faithfulness to the God who gave us reason to celebrate Christmas.

If you or your church need help figuring out ways to incarnate Christmas during the pandemic, contact Concord Solutions today.

[1] Hebrew word refers to God’s mercy in covenant relationship with His people.

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