This week we asked the Matriarchs to share a memory from Christmas or Advent, whether a teachable moment or a moment that “made” Christmas. Our first two memories involve family and moments when the work of being the pastor opened the possibility of something more.
First, from earthchick, blogging at earthchicknits:
On Tuesdays at our church, we serve a meal for the homeless and the hungry. Six years ago, when my twin sons were three years old, Christmas fell on a Tuesday. The people putting together the meal for that night decided to make it a special Christmas celebration – there was a tree, a cake, presents, and singing. I will be honest – even though I knew this was the kind of thing I “should” want to do for Christmas, it felt like just one more obligation to get through. My husband and I took our sons, who were very excited to hear that there would be a birthday cake for Jesus – it turns out that they were actually expecting Jesus to show up and blow out the candles. They were disappointed when that didn’t happen, but they continued to look for him at the party. At one point, a toddler, whose family was homeless, walked up to my husband near the Christmas tree and lifted his arms for my husband to pick him up. As my husband held the little boy, one of our sons told the other one, “That must be Jesus.” His words cut to the core for me – a simple reminder that Jesus does show up, especially (in the words of Mother Teresa) in the distressing disguise of the poor. I was so glad I went to that party, and that my sons showed me that Jesus was there, too!
And next from revhrod, blogging at You Don’t Have to Listen, I Just Like to Talk:
The first Christmas at my second call was the year our daughter Katie was 2 1/2. She was starting to understand what was going on and I was beginning to feel like the time has arrived to build our own family traditions. Stockings first? Did you have to brush your teeth before opening anything? (My dad always declared everyone had to be dressed before opening gifts.) What would we have for breakfast? Should we watch It’s a Wonderful Life? When the time came, none of this imagining really mattered because that year Christmas was on a Sunday. We would be going to church on Christmas morning. To work. Little did I know, this would become my favorite family tradition.
For the next fifteen years we would open our presents early before getting dressed and heading for church. My husband would vacuum the Narthex. Katie would pick up stray candles from the night before and together we would sort the candles from the cards for storage. The two of them nearly always served as the ushers and the year Katie was 9 or 10 the Choir Director invited her to sing Away in a Manger during the offering.
Some years there was a struggle to have a Christmas Day service. How would we find a musician? Did anyone really want to come? In the end, we always had music and the number of church geeks attending the service increased to the point where no one questioned whether the service should be held. The service on Christmas Day was the time when my family really got to worship together. There was no urgency, no chaos. It was simpler, quieter. Perhaps it was something akin to what Mary and Joseph experienced the day after the shepherds left and before the wise guys arrived- a time to enjoy the gift that God gave in the birth of Jesus Christ.
My daughter is 20 this year and I am not serving a parish call, but I will still be looking for that quiet moment on Christmas Day. A time of reflection and peace. A time of joy and clarity. I hope you find one as well.
We also have two stories about the responsibilities of ministry and the tension between holding a high standard and being reasonable at this busy season.
Shelly, who serves the Aldersgate UMC in Olathe, Kansas, recommends cutting ourselves some slack:
Against my better judgment, the year we had a blizzard, I insisted that we hold all three services at the church. No one balked about this decision and some stalwart souls kept cleaning the sidewalks and parking lot with determination. Attendance was low but those who were present had a meaningful and holy moment at services. On the way home after the midnight service, I was the one who became stuck in a snow drift and had to walk the last blocks home. Everyone else made it home without incident. I changed my personal policy that I never cancel church after all of this incident. My staff is much happier with me too.
Jan, who blogs at A Church for Starving Artists, offers Christmas blessings and insight into ministry opportunities after Christmas:
As much as all church staff members need rest and refreshment after Christmas, I’ve found that the most important week in terms of pastoral care is that week between Christmas Day and New Years Day. Many of us take that week off, and yet that’s the week I’ve had the most profound moments of ministry.
It’s the week that people who expected engagement rings but didn’t get them are crushed. It’s the week that young adults who are still not taken seriously by their parents experience profound disappointment. It’s the week that the grieving are feeling particularly sorrowful and the lonely are especially so. If you can save vacation until another week,December 26-January 1 is a perfect week to be available to people with special spiritual questions and needs related to family and seasonal issues.
We thank the Matriarchs for their stories and for their wisdom, week in and week out. If you have a Christmas moment to share, please do so in the comments. This feature will be back in the New Year!