I’ve led worship several times on Christmas Eve. I planned and led the Family service at my previous home church for 3 or 4 years, finding creative ways to make the evening meaningful and engaging for our youngest worshippers and the parents-extended families that chauffeured them. I served as lay reader and musician at contemporary and traditional services there, as well. For the past 2 years, I was honored to provide pulpit supply for churches that were between installed pastors and in need of someone to come share the word on Christmas Eve.
This year’s supply work is a little different. I’ve been preaching at FPA since the first part of November and signed a contract to do so through the end of February (along with some other part-time pastoral duties). This is not my church of membership, where I’ve had time to develop a few deeper relationships. Nor is this congregation made up of strangers. I’ve heard some of their stories, I’m beginning to understand some of their passions and some of their pain points.
This year was kind of like the first year you spend Christmas with the family you marry into. There are traditions that everyone knows so well they forget that not everyone follows them. There are things they say and do that are close to what I’ve always said and done- close enough that I can adapt on the fly and not feel like I’ve mis-stepped. And there is an awareness that this new member of the family might have something of value to bring into the list of “how we do things together” – an openness ((though not entirely unwary).
Because of the nature of this temporary pastoral relationship, I’ve been treading lightly, wanting to “do no harm” in preparation for whomever is called here longer term. That sounds like walking on eggshells, which may not be quite right… more like the cautious way one enters a colder-than-preferred swimming pool or lake. Taking one step, acclimating, another step or two, getting used to the cold, going just a bit deeper. I wasn’t sure that these folks would “get me” – my humor, my passions, my particular preaching voice, my weird way of gathering references from all over the place.
Christmas Eve was pretty much me in a nutshell. Bright red shirt and green low-top Chucks in celebration of the season. Traditional passages to tell the story, but with Linus Van Pelt as the guest reader (thanks to YouTube clips from the Charlie Brown special). Sharing the lights of the candle as usual, but with new responsive readings. Even a group selfie in the middle of the sermon (an adapted version of the Family Portrait). All in dreamed up and put into motion in joyful collaboration with the music director.
It was fun, it was meaningful, the story was told, the good news was delivered, the candles were lit, and the light shines in the darkness. But even if it hadn’t been as well-received, the work we put into the service and the trust extended to me in that planning was a beautiful Christmas gift. I have become more confident that God has called this congregation and this free-range pastor together purposefully in this season. I am thankful that they took a chance on me and that I said yes.