While economic pressures can force some families to simplify at Christmas, churches can plan and promote ministries that focus on the season’s meaning—and share holiday joy.
For United Methodists seeking to be good stewards, simplifying means spending less money and more time "to focus on the meaning rather than the method of giving thanks or celebrating Christmas," says the Rev. Tom Albin, dean of The Upper Room Chapel at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, Tennessee.
Simplifying starts with family meetings, adds the Rev. Mary Alice Gran, a former director of children's ministries at Discipleship Ministries. In an age of digital communications, churches can help families celebrate Christmas in a real and personal way. Remember, Christmas isn't over the 25th; it lasts until Epiphany, giving you more time to celebrate the reason for the season!
Help families plan for simpler holidays
Organize a Sunday morning or midweek discussion or short workshop to help adults prepare for the conversation with children and with each other. Here are a few ideas:
- Talk with children about economic pressures the family is facing.
- Invite all family members to choose which traditions are most important.
- Offer ideas and opportunities for handmade gifts that cost little or nothing.
- Encourage participation in church-sponsored worship services, study times and fun events, along with secular activities.
- Provide a variety of daily, age-appropriate devotions using a Nativity set, candles or the Advent wreath
The church can consider a wealth of activities to help people find joy in tough economic times. Most can be adapted by churches of all sizes. Here are some examples:
Let the story guide your service
Experience the biblical story with people or places that are part of it, Albin urges. Organize a time for groups from the church to serve people who are homeless or have other needs. "Embody the text by reading the story before you go, and then again when you get back,” he says. Consider doing this as well as caroling to shut-ins or in hospitals or nursing homes.
Stage an Advent fair
Advent is a time of preparation. There's still time for an activitiy such as making wreaths or decorations to help move from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany. Make decorations focusing on the Christmas story, cards or gifts and decorate cookies.
If you are in a cold climate, decorate trees on the church property with bird-friendly food. Make popcorn strings or strings of grapes, cranberries or dried fruit. Mix peanut butter with cornmeal or uncooked oatmeal, spread it on a pinecone, and roll it in birdseed.
Give everyone a part
Have other events with activities for all ages, including Christmas carol sing-alongs or caroling parties and impromptu Christmas programs in which anyone can put on a costume and participate.
Encourage people who make gifts to pray for the recipients as they work. Albin says. “Add a note saying, 'This gift comes along with my prayer for you' or the promise, 'I will pray for you from Christmas to the new year.'"
Conduct "gently used" drives
Invite children to give gently used toys or books for other children. The same idea can apply to gently used clothing. People may be willing to give such items when money is tight.
Offer quiet services
Offer a “Blue Christmas” or Longest Night Worship With Those Who Mourn service. Traditionally offered around Dec. 21, more and more churches are planning a time that works best for their congregation. A "Blue Christmas" service offers a message of hope and quiet joy while acknowledging the pain and loss many experience in the holiday season. Discipleship Ministries offers many ideas or prayers and liturgies.
Give "home" on Christmas Eve
Be sure to promote your activities in the community as well as to your church family. Social media is a great place to share details. Are there community websites in addition to your church's site where you can post events? Make certain to welcome and include all who come to your Christmas Eve service as they hear the message of love and hope.
Make a shepherds' run
Invite people to come early to the Christmas Eve service and bring cookies and candy. Together make plates or small baskets of goodies. Add a note of Christmas wishes from your church. Invite people to make a quick stop or two on the way home and to deliver the goodies to people who work in convenience stores, hospitals, police and fire stations and other places on Christmas Eve.
---The Rev. Kathy Noble, editor, Interpreter and Interpreter Online