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How about some inspiration and ideas as we anticipate the coming season? Today’s question is about all things Advent and Christmas:

Dear Matriarchs:

With the seasons of Advent & Christmas coming up very quickly, we pastors are pondering and preparing and planning for our congregations. 

From your years of experience, what are one or two Advent &/or Christmas things that have worked especially well in your ministry? Will you share:

  • The most meaningful church tradition
  • Your most helpful resources (printed and web)
  • Something fun or “out of the box” 
  • Strategies for planning & pacing yourself

I know I’m not the only one who would love to hear “the best of the best” from you Matriarchs.

Inquiring Revs Want to Know

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Our Matriarchs have brought forth glad tidings of great ideas! Enjoy!

One of our meaningful traditions has been to invite college students and other young adults who are home for Christmas to help lead worship at the11 pm Christmas Eve candlelight/communion service. It’s become a lovely tradition, and it’s really nice to have experience their leadership in worship. They do everything except preach and celebrate the sacrament.

 Jennifer at www.anorientationofheart.blogspot.com

Dear Inquiring-

  1. One of my favorite resources for decorating the sanctuary is Peter Mazer’s To Crown the Year.  It’s filled with lots of ideas for liturgical decorations that don’t strain the budget and can lead to creativity of your own.
  2. One year I made Advent door wreaths.  Instead of the usual greens, I used grapevine wreaths, small dark red berries and a very royal blue ribbon.  They were a reminder that something different was happening in our place. When we got to the days before Christmas, the traditional greens came down and the Advent door wreaths were boxed up for the next year.
  3. More often than not, Advent 1 is the weekend of Thanksgiving when SundaySchool can be very small.  In the days before laptops, we laid out a paper calendar and invited all the kids to create a day with something to sing, do, think, pray, etc.  There was always someone ready to do a fast cut and tape so that the finished Advent Calendar could be copied and handed out at the end of the service.  Clearly this one takes a team, but it can make for a fun multi-age activity.
  4. I love first person preaching.  Advent lends itself to telling the stories of those who prepared or were merely on the sidelines.
  5. Finally, a blog post from days gone by. At Christmas time I think it is critical that we invite our children not to watch our worship but to be integral leaders.  So what if they mispronounce the name of the Emperor when they are reading from Luke?  We know who the reader is talking about.  Invite them to offer the prayers of the congregation.  They are more tuned in to the news of the world then we usually realize. Inviting children to be worship leaders at Christmas is empowering and exciting. It gives us all a chance to hear the Word in a fresh way and it’s so much better than trying to create a Kodak moment.

Blessings for the coming season!

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath

Dear RevGals,

Here are meaning church traditions I’ve known and loved: 

  • The most meaningful church tradition – For this year and especially for 2016 when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, I suggest having people write brief accounts of their most memorable Christmases Past to be read between carols.  One year, our stories included the account of a WW2 vet:  Christmas 1944 when the soldier and his tent-mate realized that it was Christmas Eve on the battlefield in Europe and they created a makeshift Christmas Eve service.  Standing around a fire, but freezing, they sang “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.  Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.”  Amazing.
  • Your most helpful resources – Check out this NEXTChurch page on Advent worship planning and sermon themes. 
  • Something fun or “out of the box” – Several Presbyterian congregations in Chicago have done a Nativity Flash Mob for the past two Advents.
  • Strategies for planning & pacing yourself – Under schedule your whole month of December.  Whatever can wait until January (premarital counseling, 2016 worship planning, annual reports) save for January.  The reality is that surprises will happen in the throes of Advent activities (illnesses, deaths, funerals) not to mention the fact that we want to leave space for the Spirit to enter!

Enjoy!  Jan at A Church for Starving Artists  

More . . . more . . . more!

Sacred/Secular Tug of War: As a mother/minister I used to feel pulled between the sacred/secular aspects of the season. I wrestled that down in 2009 and wrote a blogpost about it, maybe it will speak to you.

An Advent Poem: In worship, simple means that it’s a good time to use repetition. Here’s a 4-line Advent poem I wrote that makes a suitable Benediction — use it every week if you like! 

And to offer everyone a moment of breathing space! Here’s a 1-minute video of Eugene Peterson reading his poem “Cradle”

Rev. Ruth Everhart
(twitter) @rutheverhart(blog) www.rutheverhart.com

Dear Inquiring Rev.,
I am happy to share some of my favorite Advent & Christmas traditions, resources and memories!

1) Most Meaningful Church Tradition – I grew up in a large, downtown PC(USA) church and my favorite Christmas tradition came on Christmas Eve.  The pastor of our church would stand in the rather-high-up pulpit with a young boy or girl (no more than 5 years old) and stand them up on the very top edge of the pulpit (holding on to them all the while) as the young child would sing the first verse of “Away in A Manger”

2) Most Helpful Advent & Christmas Resource – “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson; “The Nativity” by Julie Vivas; “Barrington Bunny” from “The Way of the Wolf” by Martin Bell

3) Something Fun or “Out of the Box” – I rotate one of several Nativity Sets which have been given to me or purchased over the years and display them in my office for church members to come see and hear about

4) Strategies for Planning & Pacing Myself – We have shorter church office hours leading up to Christmas Eve so that we staff can focus on our Christmas preparation for both church and home

Blessing of the Christ Child,

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin

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What a pile of delightful gifts you have delivered to us, Matriarchs!

How about you, dear reader? What has worked well for you? In the comments below, please share your own “best of the best” Advent and Christmas ideas and strategies.

We love questions!

What’s swirling in your pastoral world that could use a RevGal perspective?  Our Matriarchs are ready to help. Send your scenarios and questions to: askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com. 

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3 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Rituals, Resources & Recipes for Advent & Christmas

  1. These are simply wonderful! Thank you, Sharon, for assembling such a great list. I had every intention of contributing to it but failed to get an email in to you in time. I will add one little contribution here. After so many times through the lectionary cycle (my husband and I have co-pastored here for almost 15 years!), we have begun giving ourselves the freedom to create our own Advent “lectionary” every now and then. Twice in the last 4 years, we have preached from hymns and carols, with great response. It has given us some freedom to play with worship structure and even sermon structure (sometimes interspersing the sermon with breaks for congregational singing, for instance). It’s been really energizing to use music as our preaching text (while still putting into conversation with Scripture as well).

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    1. Thank you! I was seriously stuck, and your hymn/carol idea is helping me get un-stuck. I’m preaching the first and third Sundays of Advent, at two different congregations. I think Advent is the hardest time of year to be a supply preacher!

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  2. I do love Advent and Christmas. Thanks for all of the suggestions! I’d add two: displaying a plethora of nativity scenes at home and in church — among other things, it’s a great way to increase the visual diversity of our images of Jesus as we celebrate incarnation/Incarnation (http://rachelhackenberg.com/monday-muse-more-than-one-lobster/), and reading Madeleine L’Engle’s beautifully imaginative Dance in the Desert in the weeks following Christmas as part of the remembrance of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt (http://rachelhackenberg.com/monday-muse-dance-in-the-desert/).

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