October 19, 2017

Missing Church

I confess: we missed going to church yesterday on Christmas.

Despite my strong opinions that churches should have services on Christmas whether it falls on Sunday or not, and that when it is on a Sunday churches should not cancel services, we didn’t make it yesterday.

We had the best intentions and planned to go — but it didn’t happen.

I suppose I could make excuses, or give what some would consider legitimate reasons. We were there for three hours on Saturday night, preparing for and participating in Christmas Eve services. And it wasn’t just singing Christmas carols and lighting candles. We heard the Word and met Christ at the Table. I suppose it would be legitimate to say we took part in our weekly worship, and that we should not have felt obligated to attend on Christmas morning.

We had ten people at our house celebrating Christmas, including three young grandchildren. Our family has always opened presents on Christmas morning and as we’ve grown the process has become more lengthy and involved. As it was, we weren’t done with our festivities until after noon. Plus, not everyone was eager to attend church — some are not in the habit of doing so regularly, and some go to other churches (and also had long Christmas Eve service commitments).

Our plan was not to make a big deal out of expecting others to go with us — it would just be Gail and I. If anyone else wanted to come, they were welcome but all were free to make their own decisions.

In the end it got too complicated to work out, so we stayed home with the family. If something must be blamed, it would be our planning and execution. We should have recognized the additional issues the rare Sunday Christmas schedule presented, prepared for them more fully, and communicated our plans to all concerned more clearly.

Don’t get me wrong. I think regular readers know I’m no legalist or religionist. I don’t think God is upset or angry with me for missing a Sunday morning worship service. If we practiced confession, I would not feel the need to bring this up to my pastor. I do wonder how many others showed up. I regret not joining the faithful few to show support for my brothers and sisters and our pastor on a morning that must have been a challenge for him.

In fact, that may be where some of my angst is coming from. Having been a pastor, and having had the duty of leading services at times when cultural practices made them inconvenient, I have a deep sympathy for pastors and want them to know that I am on their side. I support them. I value the work they do when it seems like everyone else is focused on other priorities. I have tried to speak for them here on Internet Monk again and again, and it’s a bit embarrassing to admit I didn’t live up to my words yesterday.

I still think the Church should worship on Christmas morning, Sunday morning or not. When Christmas is on Sunday, congregations definitely should not cancel services. God’s people should come together to celebrate Christ’s birth in the same way we celebrate the resurrection on Easter. These are still my strong opinions.

But our cultural habits are deep, our family patterns too. We didn’t do enough to modify them so that we could include going to church on Christmas in our observance yesterday.

I feel a little sad about that.

Comments

  1. We stayed home. We have three young boys and felt that it would be really hard to go this morning. I do feel mixed about it. But I know God is not mad at us. I just keep thinking that next time Christmas falls on a Sunday it will be easier to go to church that morning.

  2. We had a Christmas Eve service and a Christmas Day service.
    This came after two special Christmas programs during the month of December and organizing the special Christmas Day broadcast on the local radio…Good thing the Bible Study group decided to have a pause: things would have been even more hectic!
    We had lunch with my parents yesterday after church, but I was too stressed to totally enjoy it.

    Now, I am going to enjoy a week of vacation (and I decided we would not have church on January 1st!!)

  3. You will be pleased to learn that you DID, in fact, attend church on Sunday. According to the Jewish understanding, each day begins on what we would call the sundown of the previous evening. Some Catholic churches offer Saturday evening mass on this basis.

    • Our Western calendar is not based on the Jewish understanding. Saturday is Saturday and Sunday is Sunday.

      • Not exactly true, Bob. The liturgical calendar, both East and West, carries on the Jewish tradition. Liturgically speaking, the next church day begins at Vespers, i.e. the previous evening, past the setting sun.

        • Thanks for correcting my misunderstanding, Tim. I learned something new today.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          Hence the practice among many Catholics of attending mass on Saturday evening. (Only a cynic would suggest that this has the salutary effect of getting it out of the way, so as to leave all of Sunday free for football.)

  4. Don’t knock yourself too much. Some Sundays are awfully difficult, and I expect Christmas Sunday is extra-awfully difficult.

    Were I not obligated, I likely would have gone to my church’s Christmas Eve service and skipped the Christmas Day one. I’m with you: If the building is open, go. But I consider the Saturday night and Sunday morning services to be as interchangeable as the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. (Plus there’s the added bonus of spending Sunday morning sleeping in like a pagan.)

  5. Same here. We traveled this year and barely squeezed in Christmas Eve service between family get-togethers. But my aunt, who is near 90, went to church this morning. I wish I could have, too, because the eve service did not serve communion.

  6. Highwayman says:

    Don’t beat yourself up, CM!

    I really haven’t enjoyed some of the Christmas morning services I’ve been to in the past (whether Sunday or any other day), as they have often been heavily laced with talk of children’s presents and roast lunch, etc., rather than the One we were there to worship.

    For that reason, Christmas Eve midnight communion has sometimes been more enjoyable, although the one we went to this year in a local Anglican church was dire – people who attend church only once a year would probably have been put off for life!

    But yesterday morning my wife and I were in the prison chapel where I have been the organist for many years. Because of their circumstances, those who attend are not distracted by the trivia and frivolity you get elsewhere, the chapel was packed, the singing (as usual) was wholehearted and joyful, the welcome warm and genuine – there’s nowhere else I would rather be on Christmas morning.

    • Just interested, Highwayman, what made the Anglican service dire. I attended Christmas Eve service at Anglican church and had mixed feelings.

      • Highwayman says:

        Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the Anglican order of service – one of the really good things about the Anglican church is that one can appreciate the content of the set prayers and readings even when the person leading the service is hopeless, as was the case here.

        It was the dreary, slow and generally poor organ accompaniment (leading to half-hearted carol singing), the sudden changes from spoken responses which we could join in with to sung ones where we had no idea of the tune, and the rambling sermon which made more mention of Chipperfield’s circus than Jesus Christ.

        The whole thing seemed to go on for an inordinately long time and had very little obvious joy or spiritual life.

    • Should we choose church services based on the criterion of which is more enjoyable? I’m just asking….

      • Highwayman says:

        A very valid question, to which I would answer:

        No, but if one comes away feeling that the whole experience was a waste of time and a travesty of Christian life, it makes one less inclined to go back,

        I couldn’t help thinking that Jesus would have felt more at home at the party we’d been to a couple of nights earlier than in that particular church service. I find this very sad.

      • Well, but everything appeals to someone. It’s not like worship communities go out of their way to select a worship style that appeals to no one. So someone likes (even if only the rector) the church service at any given church. So why then is it OK for them to get their preference but other people not to get a preference?

  7. Chaplain Mike ~ YOU MADE THE RIGHT DECISION!! I had two friends who so anticipated Christmas and spent so much energy, money and time preparing and did all the “right things” that they ended up having a “fight” with their family on Christmas morning!!! Everyone was over-tired and beyond stressed. One called me hiding in a bedroom at her daughter’s home just sobbing and whispering that if she could she would come home now. Another, whose husband is a pastor, asked me if I would accompany her to his Christmas Eve service which I did and when we got in the car to come home she just put her head on the steering wheel and sobbed. Stress. Then I got home to find a message from a friend whose only brother has been on a ventilator since Thanksgiving to learn that he had taken a turn for the worse and was taken off the ventilator. I went right over and sat with her until midnight. Her brother died just a few minutes into Christmas day. Did I go to church on Christmas Day? NO – I prayed at my dining room table that I hoped that I had honored Jesus’ birthday by making an effort to be there for His people.

    We need to take control of our Christmas celebrations and stop the insanity. We are beyond insanity about packing it full of TOO MUCH. Excess is the name of the game in the U.S. And then we wonder why so many suffer from depression, the holiday blues etc. not to mention the debt issue. So don’t feel guilty about not going along with the “herd mentality”. You did the right thing.

  8. Our house church decided by default on Sunday before Christmas that we would not meet as usual yesterday; 2/3 of the group were going to be out of town and of the remaining no one offered their house as the meeting location.

    We support all people with the love of Christ, however we don’t have the obligation of supporting a full time pastor.

    Tom

  9. Paul Willingham says:

    My wife and I and our three children and their families are all regular attenders and active in individual home churches. One of our daughters lives out of state and we have determined that family together will normally take precedence over Sunday morning church attendance.

    Having grown up in an era when, if the doors were open, you were expected to be in attendance created some conscience wrestling but the joy and pleasure of spending time with our children, their spouses and our grandchildren easily overrode any misgivings.

    Kudos for making the right choice. I suspect that church attendance will not be high on the entrance qualifications for heaven.

    Paul

  10. Rebekah Grace says:

    I drove to another town to see my dad preach in his little 100 year old church. Their service was later than it usually is (11:00) and shorter (only 1 hour from beginning to end). My dad spoke on John 1:1-18…..In the beginning was the Word……I learned something about God our Father and my Lord Jesus Christ sitting in that old pew. We sang, among other classic Chrismas songs, Amazing Grace. I cried. My husband grabbed my hand.

    I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my Christmas morning any other way. But then, this (seeing my dad preach) is all a matter of healing for me. I’m not a regular church attender otherwise.

  11. Thanks Mike,

    Excellent blog and points made!

    My church is small (Anglican). We normally have 50 or 60 people in attendance. Our Christmas Eve service packed the mortuary’s chapel where we rent space and meet. Over a hundred people in attendance. Christmas morning, we had less than 25.

    You were spot on when you noted that cultural issues play a major part in our decision to go/not go. These same cultural considerations enter our lives in many other ways, too.

    I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan for a year as a contractor — May 2006-2007. Since returning home, I’ve become more keenly aware of the cultural influences that affect how we worship and what we believe. I find myself examining my own thoughts and beliefs…trying to throw out the subterfuge and keep what is good. I could cite numerous examples, but will save those for a more appropriate time.

    You may not have gone to a corporate worship service at your church. However, I am certain that you worshiped with your family. And that, my friend, is good.

    Blessings,

    Michael

  12. Mike, lighten up. Your post reads like the 7th chapter of Romans.

    Chapter 8 gets better: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

    Enjoy your day off!

  13. This certainly has been heavily discussed on the web! Many sites (Jesus Needs New PR being a prominent example) make me feel almost guilty because I DID go to church yesterday. The not-so-subtle message is that churches that don’t cancel for Christmas must be bound up in legalism. I’m pastoral staff at my church so there were practical reasons I needed to be there, but it honestly never would have occurred to my husband not to go. Attendance was only down slightly as visitors made up for a lot of the missing folks, the atmosphere in the service was great, the pastor preached a sermon centered in the gospel (not gifts or roasts)

  14. Oops! I sent that comment before I intended to. The point is – it was a good service, we took communion and worshiped the incarnate Son, and I don’t think it was simply obligation that brought us all there. My children (down to age 7) were anxious to get home and open their gifts, but they never suggested skipping church. I don’t begrudge others who made a different decision.

  15. My brother-in-law and his wife thoughtfully invited my husband (Atheist) and me (Jew) to mass. We thought about it but decided that the church in question probably did not have sufficient fire insurance to protect it from the possible lightning strikes.

    It was nice of them to ask, though, if a little strange.

  16. Cermak, I don’t find it strange that your brother in law and his wife invited you and your husband to attend church with them. That is called hospitality and is a good thing in my opinion. Our son brought his girlfriend home with him for Christmas. She is not a Christian and is a Chinese national. We invited both of them to attend Christmas Eve services with us and they did. By the same token, I have attended Jewish services and have learned many wonderful things in those services. I think it is ok to honor the beliefs of others through our attendance. And, it’s ok to just enjoy the experirence. I would never be put off if another person declined my invitation.

    • Strange, because we are both what the Church once called (and I suppose still does though not in public) Apostates. I converted to Judaism (or reverted depending on who you ask) and my partner has, in a very public way (and repeatedly) renounced his former allegiance.

      Rather a different circumstance than yours.

      • The anger, I’m afraid, would be one-sided–most churches would welcome you regardless. The Baptists might be good for some drama–certainly not the Catholics or Episcopalians, and other liturgicals would probably just shrug their shoulders at the presence an unbelievers in their midst.

        It’s natural for those who leave a religion to focus on the negatives. But as time goes by, try to look past the aspects that made you leave it (assuming they haven’t done anything really horrible), and see it with more balance. After all, you have family in it.

  17. Chaplain Mike, I’m officially shocked. I would like to know from First Lady Denise Spencer, what would Michael Spencer do?

    • Bob,
      All your comments on this thread seem to convey a veiled sense of righteous anger. Is there something constructive you’d like to say, or are you satisfied with short comments that just come across to me as sniping?

      • Rick,
        I usually have a lot to say, constructive or otherwise, so I often find myself repenting in sackcloth and ashes ( I am lying about the sackcloth and ashes part). I am hardly ever satisfied with short comments. I’ve only been on this planet for threescore and ten years now, and one might think one would have had time to learn not to open mouth and insert foot. But, alas, apparently I need a few more laps around the mountain. There is still time.

        All of which is prologue to saying I apologize for the sniping and the overall snippy tone of my comments yesterday. You are kind to call the anger righteous. I am our small church’s sole instrumental musician, and in retrospect I think I was more miffed than I realized at having been required by virtue of my job to participate in two Christmas Eve services (5 p.m. and 11 p.m) plus a 10:30 a.m. Christmas Day service while others didn’t bother to show up at all, including, it turns out, a certain moderator of a certain blog I admire immensely.

        I see now that I’m still quite the legalist. God forgive me. It’s always so much easier to yell at others than to do the hard work of examining oneself. I thought I had the heart of a servant. It’s just possible that I do not.

        • Bob, I thank you for your clarifying post. I was hoping you would return here to comment. When first began reading the comments of this particular blog, I saw yours and thought, “Wow, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” I knew there was more to the story. The graciousness and humility in your response is noted and appreciated.

          I completely understand the “anger” behind your comments. I never even considered the people like you who have to be at church on all the days us regular congregants can blow off, and how that can get under someone’s skin. I have the freedom and joy of showing up to worship whenever I like; I can see how being “required” to worship could eat away at someone’s joy. Please don’t beat yourself up for being human. I’ve gotten angrier at things less worthy than this, which is just to say I have a long way to go, too.

          God’s grace and peace to you.

  18. Kerri in AK says:

    Chaplain Mike, I attended the midnight mass at the chapel where I live and then the Christmas day 9:30 Eucharist at the little church in the next village over that I attend as well as the 8:15 Christmas day morning prayers in our chapel. How many people could realistically attend three Christmas services in less than 12 hours? The doors may be open but that doesn’t mean you have to go every time they are. I’m lucky in that our chapel has four prayer services a day plus two Eucharist services a week – it’s a rare day that I don’t attend all services given. But that’s hardly a standard most people could hold themselves to. Corporate prayer is good and necessary but modern Western cultures don’t build them into our regular days anymore. Besides, you’re not living in a religious community where prayers are compulsory. Whichever and however many services you attend doesn’t matter as long as you go being open to God.

  19. We didn’t make it to church yesterday, either. I found myself alternating between feeling guilty about not going (could there be any better day to worship the Lord in church than on the day we celebrate His birth?) and somewhat humored by that feeling of guilt (don’t I worship the Lord pretty much daily as it is, and isn’t the 25th more or less just a man-made symbolic date we’ve attached to Jesus’ birth, rather than the actual day He was born?).

    At one point yesterday, I asked my gathered family, “Shouldn’t we feel bad about not going to church to worship Jesus on the day we celebrate His birth?” We all kinda looked at each other and decided, “Well, we’re here together on this special day, and we’ve not forgotten the reason for the celebration.”

    I guess my thought is that as long as those gathered are remembering the reason, celebrating His birth…well, I’d like to think we serve and follow a God whose mercy and love would keep Him from striking our names from the Book of Life even if we didn’t make it to church on Christmas Day.

  20. Our normal schedule of four Christmas Eve services was reduced to two this year, at least in part to allow those of us who are choir members to get some sleep before morning. Anticipating lower attendance in the morning, our normal three services combined into one, which will also be the case for New Year’s Day. My husband and I had to be there, but I gave our teenaged kids the option of staying home. They chose to come to church on Christmas Day. All things considered, it worked out well, and we opened presents in the afternoon. Of course, due to a strange school schedule in our area, this was the first Christmas we actually spent at home in over 7 years, so we weren’t fighting all sorts of traditions, nor did we have company. I really think you have to do what works for you and your family. Guilt trips are quite unnecessary.

  21. Mixed feelings on this. It IS Christmas, and even if you go on Christmas Eve, I hate to see gifts, etc. end up taking importance over and above worship. I know it happens, but it bothers me. I’m not all legalistic, but if Christians aren’t celebrating the religious holiday, how can so many be up in arms that “Christ” is no longer in Christmas. It starts with each one of us.

  22. Any pastors want to chime in on my comments about supporting the pastor who must lead services on “inconvenient” days?

    Seriously, this is the biggest element contributing to my mixed feelings, and it grows out of my own experience.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      To be honest, I expected a really low turn out. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that attendance was about what it usually is (which, because we are a very small church, equals that of an overly large small group at a mega-church). However, I wouldn’t have been upset if there were just a few folks there. It’s times like that when you really get the idea that Jesus is still there, even if there’s only a few folks present. It also serves as a helpful reminder that the service isn’t about the preacher or leader, but Christ. Come to think of it, any occasion that teaches a pastor that the service is not about him (or her) is a blessing for the pastor, although it can be a difficult blessing!

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

        I expected a low turnout also, but both the Saturday night and Sunday morning services were pretty packed at my church. One of the reasons I went to three (yes, three :p) services this weekend was that as a postulant to orders, I thought I should support our clergy, and especially our rector. He gave the assistant rector Christmas morning off because the assistant rector has 5 little children, one of whom is only a few weeks old. “Gave” isn’t the right word for it: ordered him to take the day off is more like it. The rest of us deacons, priests and postulants gave him a good-natured hard time about it though. Hey, if we can’t get some brotherly digs in, who can? As to the three services for me thing, I honestly needed it. As a single guy it’s easy to either go to too many parties with other folks (there are never a dearth of invites) or let the lack of having my own family get me down. Religion’s good at times like those.

        • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

          Oh, and I’ve been assigned to give the sermon during next week’s service. What with me being a guest preacher and it being New Year’s Day, I’m REALLY expecting a low turnout. But that’s OK. I’ve preached to turn-outs of several hundred and to turn-outs of less than 10. It’s always nice to preach no matter the size of the congregation or its attendance.

    • I was pleasently surprised by two things: 1) We had above average attendance on Sunday morning, 2) people who never make it to Christmas eve came Sunday morning. As a pastor I was just glad people at least chose one, but I definitely felt supported by those things. But Mike, you of all people should know that when anyone shows up on inconvient days, its always nice. But if I was your pastor, I would not have faulted you.

      • I agree with Pastor Brendan. I serve a 2 rural point charge. We had separate Christmas Eve services with above average attendance and a combined Christmas service with more in attendance than the combined total from the night before. The attendance and the show of support was a boost, but I would not fault anyone who did not attend.

  23. Clay Knick says:

    I appreciate any person who shows up any Sunday. Life is busy and the cultural expectations of Christmas do overwhelm us. I served one church where Christmas showed up on Sun. once in the 13 years I was the pastor. In a church that averaged 90 or so on Sun. that Christmas Sun. there were 120-130 people there. In my present appointment Christmas attendance was so horrible six years ago I didn’t even bother to ask a person to count. We had had a massive crowd the night before, 250 or so. This year we had fewer on Christmas Eve than the 250, but a whole lot of people, and more on Christmas Sun. than the small few who showed up in ’05. But we still had half the usual number. I appreciate the people who come to support “me.” But I tire of counting heads. The service needs to happen, the liturgy needs to be done, no matter who shows up. It is the Lord’s Day and it so happens to be the Feast of the Incarnation. I’m happy anyone shows up & thank them for being there.

    I did have some folks tell me six years ago that they thought it was terrible that churches were closing on Christmas Day and they would be there. There were not. While I did not mention any names I mentioned that in the Dec. newsletter. Perhaps that’s why our attendance was better this year.

    Mike I would not be bothered if you happened to miss worship if I were your pastor. You’d be the type that is there all the time. What bothers me are people who rarely ever come at all, maybe on Christmas Eve, if then, but expect maximum attention & focus when they are in need. Then they drop the church when the crisis is over. Folks like you and Gail are a gift. One Sun. will not be a killer.

  24. (I composed this comment, my third attempt at one, before CM weighed in above to emphasize that his main concern was for fellow pastors who might feel let down by the lack of support implied by a church member’s absence from an “inconvenient” service. In the light of that, not being a pastor, I considered not posting… but, aw, what the heck. Just take what follows with an appropriate-sized grain of salt.)
    __________

    I confess that I’m somewhat baffled by this post. I feel that in some ways the community is being both invited and dared to judge CM’s Sunday choice, and that a commenter is damned no matter how he weighs in.

    On the one hand, to the extent that there’s an IM editorial position on “Christmas Sunday services,” it would seem to be the one CM attributes to himself in the second paragraph, viz., “that churches should have services on Christmas whether it falls on Sunday or not, and that when it is on a Sunday churches should not cancel services.” It’s definitely the vibe I picked up from the admittedly coyly-worded paragraph in Jeff Dunn’s December 3rd “Saturday Ramblings” that introduced the topic this year by linking to a relevant news article, and (although I may be mis-remembering, and am certainly too lazy to go back and re-read every comment on every IM post since that date) it’s a position that I think was alluded to by more than one commenter during Advent. Basically, we reject the evangelical circus and the catering-to-culture that the canceling of Sunday worship represents– especially when it is done in the name of “family,” that idol of the Religious Right. Conversely, we think that not too much is being asked of us when we are invited by our churches’ non-cancelation of services to be there on Christmas Day, following in the steps of the host of Christians from eras past who would have accepted it without question as a joyful obligation.

    But.

    On the other hand, we are also people who have fled the oppressive culture of “fundagelical” legalism. We are confident from our study of the Scripture and of history that many of the things– “externals,” especially (and I have seen this term understood to include such not-obviously-superficial things as mode of baptism)– that matter greatly to such people do not actually matter in the least to God.* Church attendance, the most obvious of the many time-honored externals which do not in fact constitute a relationship with Jesus, should never be the occasion of guilt, we feel, especially when something as worthy and God-ordained as family (or hospitality) is the reason. Where grace is paramount, there is no law, nor room for guilt.

    * (though let a CCM-championing evangelical say that he thinks God doesn’t really care about the type of music used in worship, and many of us will quickly tell him why in that case he is wrong)

    Do you see why I am confused?

    (And I hope no one reads any snark in my summaries of the above two positions, for none is intended.)

    I don’t know CM personally, but I appreciate the work he does here, and I wouldn’t for the world want to make him feel bad about anything. At the same time I cannot say with any authority that it is or isn’t important to God whether one attends a worship service on any given Sunday, that the Lord does or doesn’t care whether one attends a service on Christmas Day after having already put in time on Christmas Eve, or even that it does or doesn’t matter to the Almighty whether one’s actions are always 100% consistent with his stated positions. Maybe those things matter to God more in some cases than others. Maybe (certainly, I expect) the Lord will judge me more harshly for logging perfect holiday attendance because I *had* to be there (I’m the pianist) than he will someone else who genuinely wanted to make it to all services but failed to arrange it.

    So I appreciate that this was on CM’s mind and that he has the right to use this forum to think things through in front of a (hopefully) friendly audience. I’m not sure, though, what any of us can really offer except for comments that are ultimately more about making sense of our own choices than about his.

    • Camillofan, welcome to the wonderful, mysterious, often confusing, sometimes inscrutable journey of faith. I’m not sure I posted this reflection today for any other reason than to get people talking. More than anything else, in my mind, Internet Monk is a discussion. Discussions don’t always lead to “answers,” but they do help us think and, it is hoped, enable us to appreciate and support each other more in our own spiritual formation.

      • I suppose part of whar I mean to say is that it’s harder to have that discussion here than in the average RL setting, because of the contrary theological strains running through the IM community (I know real life is complicated, too, but a single congregation could never support the diversity that exists on a forum like this).

        According to the first viewpoint I outlined in my comment above, you failed, either at being a faithful member of the body (in this one respect) or at practicing what you preach– the second of those two being the one I would (instinctively, and perhaps oddly) think to be the far greater sin. You seem fully aware of all this in your post, though, so you don’t need a stranger like me to point it out and make you feel worse (or defensive).

        At the same time, you also don’t need me to “minister” to you with false assurances that your failure is fine with God. These assurances would be false not because I’m sure God feels the other way, but because I have no idea how the Lord regards what happened. Maybe God agrees with the stance you give in paragraph #2 of the post– and you must think he does, or it wouldn’t be your opinion, right? In that case, you alone know how constrained your family situation really made you, and therefore how bad you should feel about missing church Sunday.

        Or maybe the issue with God isn’t church attendance, but being prepared to be judged with the same measure one uses to judge others. We poke such fun at evangelicals here, only it isn’t always fun; sometimes it’s deadly earnest. The sort of non-traditional, non-liturgical churches that might cancel Christmas Day services in order to give families time to do their thing are portrayed here as missing some deep truth… but it seems to me that in this instance they understand rather a lot, as you experienced yourself.

        Of course, since I believe I am accountable to God for the measure of judgment I seem to be applying to you in the foregoing, I’ll continue to ponder this…

  25. Randy Thompson says:

    As a pastor of a very small Congregational church in New Hampshire, I’m glad I showed up at our Christmas Day service. I enjoyed myself, and the folks who showed up, about the same number of folks who are usually present, had a good time as well. Had I not been the pastor, I probably wouldn’t have made the 40 minute trek to the church, but then i would have missed a joyful time, and, I think, Christmas day would have had a hole in it (even though we had a Christmas Eve service the night before, which was amazingly well attended).

    Our Christmas day service was short, a communion service, very informal, and my (short) meditation was based on the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. (I’ve always wanted to do this. Now that I’ve gotten it out of my system, I’ll most likely go to my grave never having done it again. Pastors, I do recommend it. It will be the most memorable Scripture reading ever for your church, and it serves as a reminder that Jesus “didn’t fall out of heaven in a Glad bag,” to use a phrase of one of my seminary professors.)

  26. We went to our very small inner city church. The pastor showed up late (because he and his wife were helping someone who was passed out on the sidewalk), the sound system didn’t work, the words didn’t match the music, the kids were running around and it was kind of cold in the sanctuary. Jesus loves that little imperfect church, and he was front and center. It was a great Christmas.

    • + 1.314

      Sounds exactly like the sort of place that the Boss used to hang around in.

      There MUST have been an Omni or a Hitlon serving a brunch with Bloody Marys’ and smoked salmon, with a string quartet in the corner…..right? You know, a decent place……..

  27. We attended, I was scheduled to lector, so we just made it part of our Sunday routine. What surprised me given the doctrine of ‘Days of Obligation’ in the RCC (one which I very much struggle with), was just how average the service was in size. It seemed like a normal Sunday morning service, only with the good Fr. stringing out the homily and the Eucharist!

    I’m glad we went, it’s a first for us. I read most of the Advent posts, but just couldn’t get into the spirit of things so to speak! 🙂 But doing Mass on Sunday morning, reading about the promise of his coming, put me back on track…

    It was a nice culmination to what has been a crazy month for us, we had a very small family Christmas. My wife was the only one who got anything nice (a new mixer, so she could make cookies, and I could test them!), we did everything we could to avoid the crowds and madness.

    But if I family coming over like you, I wouldn’t have gone either. Family is important, and I’m pretty sure that this little thing called Grace covers situations like this 🙂

    -Paul-

  28. My God….

    HELL hath frozen over…
    The parkas have been liberally pased out in hell….
    The biggest snowball fight in Hell’s history has taken place…

    Chaplin Mike misses the Christmas Eve servcie, while the Agnositc Eagle goes to a Catholic service with his family. What is this world coming to!!! 😛

    In my case we got to the Catholic church about 45 minutes before the service started. I attended to honor my Mom and Dad and not make them upset; although they know how I feel, and that I don’t go to church for obvious reasons in Washington, D.C. While I waited for church to start I whipped out my Android and was reading the latest articles at Ex-Christian.net. I read the individuals stories of how people lost their faith while I waited to the Catholic service to commence.

    I had a unique Christmas gift by my sister. Let me give you the background. My family from California visited me in Washington, D.C. in October 2011. I hung out with my sister in the Chinatown Starbucks in downtown Washington. There, as my sister and I talked I told her that I no longer attended church (heck its been a couple going on 3 years now….) and explained why. For me a huge obstacle to God is the problem of evil and why a loving God allows so much evil. In my case I phrase the question like this… Why does a loving, omnscient God allow a 6 year old to be abducted, sodomized, raped, and murdered and then disposed of – like that awful killing that took place last month in Georgia. What makes the problem of evil so much worse for me is the knowledge that God knows its going to happen. That’s what turns my stomach. So I explained all this to my sister who has dealt with a lot of suffering herself.

    So yesterday for Christmas my sister got me a book. A Catholic book called “Left to Tell” by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Its the story of a person who found God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. I was startled to get it as a gift, and was emotionally moved and went to my old room for a few minutes to get my composure. I’ve read so much about evil, and Christian theology books. Right now I am continuing Greg Boyd’s “Letter to a Skeptic” and Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace” to try and understand why grace is a myth in Christianity. This book by my sister will be on my list.

    CM…. I’m looking forward to that discussion on Mark Driscoll’s new book and the new controversary that will take fundagelicalism by storm after John MacArthur fires two shots across Mark Driscoll’s bow and launches another WW IV, especially is WWIII was over the Song of Songs. 😉

    • I read “Left to Tell” a few years ago. It was very moving and to me, the true miracle was not that the author lived, but that in spite of it all, she still believes in God at all. I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine what she went through.

  29. We went to our Baptist church on Christmas morning for two reasons although I confess I didn’t really want to and the children protested. First, it’s really hard to keep in the front of our children’s minds that Christmas is NOT all about them but Jesus and second, as someone who has just finished ministerial training I felt I ought to attend to support the minister. I was also aware that a number of my peers from seminary were taking their first Christmas services and in a weird way I felt I was devaluing what they were doing if I just didn’t turn up to church. So, my reasons were mostly based on guilt – not good reasons at all. It would probably have been better not to go at all and as it was a packed house we wouldn’t have been missed!

  30. I went to a “Longest Night” service at a local Methodist church on Wednesday, and on Saturday I went to a Christmas Eve service at my church. I considered going to one of the Sunday services (the late afternoon one) as it would be a different pastor speaking and some of my friends would be there. My family had mostly gone home by that time but I didn’t make it. I tried to have a relaxed attitude about it all and not worry about it and I think I succeeded pretty well.

    I do think, especially when Christmas falls on a Sunday, that people should try to go to a service, either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. As some have said, it’s important to show the pastors and others who must be there that we appreciate their sacrifice of being there when we have the luxury of not showing up if we don’t want to. And even if we can’t make it to our “regular” church in most cities and suburban areas there are enough churches close at hand that we have plenty of options for both location and service times.

  31. Richard Hershberger says:

    I find that I am less and less interested in the “secular Christmas” that we are culturally immersed in. I’m not saying that I am opposed to it: merely that I am uninterested in it: even downright bored by it. I also have two small children, aged four and two, and I am not going to deprive them of the experience. As a result, I am more or less immersed in secular Christmas whether I like it or not. Getting into church and celebrating Christian Christmas is something of a relief.

    I went to church three times last weekend. The first was the early evening family Christmas Eve service at the mainline church where my elder daughter attends Sunday school. (My reasons for sending her there are long and not terribly interesting, and in any case irrelevant to this discussion.) There was virtually nothing resembling Christian worship there. It was a recital by various children’s choruses (including one with my daughter, which is why I went). Everyone present, including the minister, treated it as a recital rather than a worship service. Then the family went to the late (but not midnight, thank goodness) service at my church, where I assisted and acolyte-wrangled in a full service of Word and Sacrament. Then I went back the next morning by myself, leaving the kids to revel in the products of consumer culture, for another full service.

    The Sunday morning service was quite successful. We normally have two Sunday services, one in German (the language of God and the prophets!) and one in English. This week we had a single, bilingual service. There were about fifty people there, which is less than we normally have for the two services combined but respectable nonetheless. We also used the opportunity to sing some less familiar Christmas hymns. The Christmas Eve service pretty much has to do the standard warhorses, but there are others which merit attention.

    We don’t normally have a Christmas morning service unless Christmas falls on a Sunday. This one was successful enough that I think I will push for one every year. To my mind the question is whether Christmas is a religious holiday with incidental secular cultural elements attached, or is it a cultural holiday with a brief nod made in the direction of its religious origin. Few Christians would admit to treating it the second way, but as a practical matter we devote far more time and energy and emotional capital and good old fashioned greenbacks to the cultural celebration than we do to anything having to do with the birth of Jesus. Practical considerations certainly enter in, and I am not in a position to cast the first stone. But I see (and not only here) an awful lot of discussion that seems to be about how much religion we will grudgingly allow to be attached to Christmas. I am not talking about openly secular society. I am talking about Christians who go attend a show, of higher or lower production standards, and then get on with the important stuff.

  32. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    My Quaker meeting only has six regular attenders. Four were travelling. I worked, so my co-workers with young kids could be at home on Christmas morning. So, it didn’t make a lot of sense for one person to come sit in the cold meeting house by herself.

    Though, one thing I really appreciate or admire about the Catholic Church is that they have multiple services. Our local Catholic Church had something like four services on Christmas day plus a bunch on Christmas Eve. Churches need to become more accomodating of people’s lives if they want to continue to be relevant in them. Most people don’t work a normal M-F 9-5 schedule anymore.

    • Our Catholic church also serves a neighborhood meal at 3pm on Christmas day. I haven’t participated because I have children at home, but I’d like to in the future.

  33. Richard Hershberger says:

    Catholic churches typically run multiple services, even on ordinary Sundays, because space limitations compel them. Your typical Catholic parish is much larger than your typical Protestant church, often running into megachurch size. On the other hand, there are a far fewer Catholic parishes, by both absolute and per capita measures. There are various reasons for this, starting with Catholic ecclesiology and running through finances and the chronic priest shortage. The upshot is that they typically run multiple services simply because they couldn’t fit everyone in at once. This has practical advantages. They can, for example, fit a Spanish mass into the schedule fairly easily. It also means that parishioners with non-traditional schedules can find their way in, but this is a secondary benefit.

  34. I’ll chime in late on this one. We had a great Christmas Eve service, and one of our biggest crowds yet. The Christmas morning service was great as well, maybe even more intimate, but the number was way way down. Just a dozen or so.

    I have to admit I was smiling over gritted teach as person after person shook my hand as they left Christmas Eve and said “we will not be here in the morning we have….” insert excuse.

    As a pastor I tried years ago to let that stop bothering me but it doesn’t. There is always a part of me that wants to wonder what they would do if the priest just didn’t show up? But that is not a good way to look at it. My wife and two young children all got up (kids in pj’s still) and came to church along with three other families. The word was preached and the table served.