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Glendale United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. is decorated for the Advent/Christmas season. Photo by Steven Kyle Adair, United Methodist Communications.

Photo by Steven Kyle Adair, United Methodist Communications

When Christmas comes on Sunday…

By Kathy Noble

By mid-morning on Christmas Day, the focus in many places will have moved from giving the perfect gift to sharing the joy of receiving a new treasure.

However, when worshippers gather at Central United Methodist Church in Waterford, Michigan, on Christmas morning, they will continue in the giving mode.

“We are putting together 16 appreciation baskets with thank you cards for local public service and care facilities,” says the Rev. Kathy Pittenger, the pastor of lifelong faith formation. “Then, people from the congregation will deliver them on their way home.”

Once every five to six years, one of the most holy days of the Christian year falls on Sunday, giving an opportunity to celebrate as a church family the gift of Jesus to the world.

Planning worship for Christmas Day can be tricky since many families have Christmas Day traditions that do not include going to church. While many churches hold Christmas Eve services, most do not have Christmas services unless the day falls on a Sunday. And while the overwhelming majority of United Methodist congregations will worship on Christmas Day, many who usually have multiple services will have only one that morning.

Some churches — especially some with multiple Christmas Eve services — will not gather for worship on Christmas Day Sunday, but they are the exception. Among those is Linglestown Life United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. However, says the Rev. Adam Estep, minister of community life, “there will be a video message available on the website and social media.”

When Christmas Day falls on Sunday, some congregations veer from their normal worship experiences to plan a special service. Pittenger says Central UMC is “going to have a shorter worship service and then do an on-site service project to extend love and joy into the community.”

Pittenger was among several worship leaders who responded when Interpreter posted a question on Facebook asking how churches would be worshipping on Christmas Day Sunday.

“Chuck Knows Christmas” will be the theme at Advent United Methodist Church in Eagan, Minnesota, says the Rev. Cindy Yanchury, minister of faith formation. The service will incorporate both Christmas hymns and carols by Charles Wesley — and episodes about Advent, Christmas, Watch Night and Epiphany from the “Chuck Knows Church” video series produced by Discipleship Ministries.

The church also is “encouraging those with young kids to worship at home,” Yanchury says. “Read from Spark Bible and do one activity as a family that is meaningful in the way of Jesus.”

Advent Church also is planning a different style of worship for New Year’s Day, which also falls on Sunday this year. Incorporating their Advent theme focusing on the “gifts of Christmas,” each person will get a gift — a lunch bag “that they’ll decorate during worship,” Yanchury says. Each bag will contain a “flat Wesley” — inspired by the “Flat Stanley” children’s book and educational project — and a copy of John Wesley’s “Covenant Prayer.”

“People will be challenged to live (Wesley’s) General Rules (as expressed by the late Bishop Reuben Job) and tweet/Instagram/Facebook pictures of JW and themselves doing good,” she says.

At many churches, children (and, at some, adults) are invited to wear their pajamas to worship. That’s the case at First United Methodist Church in Hurst, Texas, where a family-friendly service will include “the Christmas carols everyone has been anxious to sing through Advent, interspersed with short reflections by some of our clergy,” says Holly Dittrich, executive pastor. “I have been surprised at our attendance when the calendar has fallen this way in the past — higher than expected.”

A “Blessing of the Toys” will be part of worship at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Dale City, Virginia, and First United Methodist Church in Gilbert, Arizona.  

“Kids can pick one special toy they just received and bring it to church,” says Janae Tschudi-Evatt, Good Shepherd’s director of Christian education.

At Gilbert First Church the focus will be on music, singing and joyful praise and worship,” says the Rev. Tina Marie Rees.

“Cocoa and Carols” will be the theme for the service at Covenant United Methodist Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. “Hot cocoa for everyone, some carols, a brief message,” says Lindsay Perry, director of children’s ministries.

Here are some ways other churches will make Christmas Day Sunday worship special:

  • Different children will unwrap items such as a candle, a dove ornament, mistletoe, etc., as the pastor shares a message about the light coming into the world (candle), peace (dove) or how God sends us holy kisses each day (mistletoe).
  • Liturgy will be shaped around the artful expressions children have created.
  • Prayers for peace written by Sunday school classes will be part of worship.
  • Children will present an informal Christmas pageant in which everyone has a part.
  • Worshippers will share about special gifts they gave or received; the pastor will end the service by sharing the special gift of Jesus to the world.

The Rev. Kathy Noble is editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine, www.interpretermagazine.org, publications of United Methodist Communications.